Two dozen spectators were reportedly injured in a stampede that took place after Floyd Mayweather, Jr.‘s majority decision win over Marcos Maidana at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand on May 3, 2014. The stampede began when a temporary wall fell over and made a loud sound, which spectators mistook for a gunshot. An estimated 300 to 400 people then began rushing to the exits and trampling others in the process. Somewhat fortunately, the most severe injury caused by the panic was a leg laceration suffered by a woman in her mid 30s.
Of course, we use “fortunately” only in the context of other sports events stampedes where numerous fans lost their lives. History seems to have proven that gathering passionate fans within a cramped space, most especially when the necessary safeguards haven’t been put in place, increases the possibility for a dangerous stampede to occur. Unfortunately, history hasn’t seemed to be an effective enough teacher as stampedes have continued to cost many sports fans their limbs and lives.
Here are ten of the most fatal stampedes in sports history, all of them surprisingly (but likely not coincidentally) occurred during football matches.
10. Heysel Stadium Disaster, Belgium (1985) / Football / Casualties: 39
UEFA, more accustomed to assigning blame rather than accepting it, was found to be partly responsible for the May 29, 1985 Heysel Stadium (Heizelstadion) Disaster in Brussels, Belgium. The football governing body had insisted that the 1985 European Cup between Juventus of Italy and Liverpool of England be held at the Heysel venue; despite the fact that the 55-year-old structure had not been properly maintained, causing parts of the stadium to literally crumble. The outer wall, for example, was so brittle that fans without tickets were able to kick holes in the wall and enter the building. Worsening the situation, an hour before the official match, a missile-and-rock throwing fight broke out between rival fans. That caused some Juventus fans to try and climb over a wall to escape. Unfortunately, the wall give way, burying many and intensifying the panic. In the end, 39 people, mostly Juventus fans, perished and another 600 were injured. An investigation found several English fans, along with the police and the authorities, guilty of involuntary manslaughter. All in all, fourteen fans were given three-year sentences, while English clubs were banned indefinitely from European club competitions.
9. Orkney Stadium Disaster, South Africa (1991) / Football / Casualties: 42
The 1991 preseason match between the Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates at the Oppenheimer Stadium in Orkney, South Africa was described as a “friendly” match, but during it, fans acted in anything but a friendly manner. Perhaps contributing to the danger of the event was how 30,000 spectators were packed into the stadium despite its capacity being only 23,000. Worse, fans weren’t separated according to the teams they supported. As a result, at one point in the match, when the referee upheld a goal scored by the Chiefs, some knife-wielding Pirates fans were said to have chased after rival fans. In panic, people trying to flee the scene began a stampede, many of them ending up crushed against riot-control fences. As a result, 42 fans lost their lives and many others were left injured. But this wasn’t the worst disaster involving these two teams; a worse one came ten years later.
8. Ellis Park Stadium Disaster, South Africa (2001) / Football / Casualties: 43
As if the Orkney Stadium Disaster of 1991 hadn’t created enough bad history for the Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates, their encounter ten years later at the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa resulted in even more casualties. According to the final inquiry into the incident, the major cause of the disaster was security personnel accepting bribes from fans who didn’t have tickets. As a result, the stadium built for up to 60,000 people was packed with 90,000 – 120,000 fans.
The already overcrowded venue then turned chaotic when the Orlando Pirates scored a game-tying goal, and more fans surged into the stadium to see what had happened. The situation was even worsened when untrained security personnel fired tear gas to control the crowd. Predictably, a stampede ensued, crushing 43 people to death and injuring countless others.
7. Luzhniki Disaster, Moscow (1982) / Football / Casualties: 66
There are few things more tragic than fans rushing to leave a venue and not knowing that in doing so, they are killing numerous fellow fans. That’s what happened at the conclusion of the 1982 UEFA Cup second round match between FC Spartak Moscow and HFC Harlem at the Grand Sports Arena of the Central Lenin Stadium in Moscow, Russia. Unlike other stampedes in sports venues, this arena was not at all packed, with only less than 17,000 tickets sold out of 82,000. However, minutes before the end of the game, hundreds of fans began to leave the venue in an attempt to get ahead in the race to the Metro station. According to witnesses, a young woman had lost her shoe, and in her attempt to retrieve it, caused some people to fall down the stairs, thus creating a domino effect of piled bodies on the steps. Not knowing what was going on, the rest of the crowd continued moving forward, thus increasing the pile. In the end, 61 FC Spartak Moscow fans were injured and 66 lost their lives.
6. Second Ibrox Disaster, Scotland (1971) / Football / Casualties: 66
In 1902, 25 people died and 517 were injured at the Ibrox Park when a wooden West Tribune Stand collapsed. Close to 70 years later, in 1971, the venue was once again the scene of a tragedy, this time caused by a stampede resulting in 66 deaths and more than 200 other injuries. The event was an Old Firm football game (Rangers vs. Celtic) attended by more than 80,000 fans. The tragedy began when someone, for some reason, fell while leaving the venue through a stairway. This eventually caused a six-foot pile-up of people, many of the ones who were stuck at the bottom and who lost their lives being children.
5. Puerta 12 Tragedy, Argentina (1968) / Football / Casualties: 71
The Superclásico, a football match between Buenos Aires rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors, is considered a very huge deal in Argentina as they are the most popular and successful clubs in Argentine football. On June 23, 1968, however, the rivalry took a tragic turn when after the match between the two teams, 150 fans were injured and 71 were killed, the average age of the dead being 19 years.
To this day, there is little agreement as to what really caused the stampede that resulted in the loss of so many lives. However, it seems pretty clear that there was some sort of altercation between rival fans that began the panic. Unfortunately though, after a three-year inquiry by the government of Argentina, no one was found responsible for the tragedy.
4. Estadio Mateo Flores Stampede, Guatemala (1996) / Football / Casualties: 83
It’s grim enough that 83 fans lost their lives at the Estadio Mateo Flores before the start of the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualification match between Guatemala and Costa Rica. But what made the tragedy worse is that all the administrative directors of the event managed to escape being punished for their negligence. How they were able to do so is surprising considering that 45,796 tickets were printed for a stadium that was determined to be capable of accommodating only 37,500 people. As a result of the overselling of tickets, when some fans tried to enter the general admission section, they avalanched to the bottom of the stands and were crushed against a fence. Aside from the 83 who lost their lives, more than 140 were injured.
3. Hailstorm Stampede, Nepal (1988) / Football / Casualties: 93
In Nepal, it’s believed by some elders that Saturday is an unlucky day because it’s named after the planet Saturn, which in Hindu mythology is believed to possess strong negative powers. Well, on March 12, 1988, Saturday did appear to be terribly unlucky as a hailstorm caused at least 93 people to be killed and and more than 100 to be injured. It was the final game of the Tribhuvan Challenge Shield Cup, and the venue was the Dasarath Rangasala Stadium. The structure featured an open terrace with only the west side having a grandstand. As a result, when a hailstorm began peppering people with large chunks of ice, the crowd tried to pack into the west side to find shelter. However, they were beaten back by police, so they turned to the south terrace exit, where a deadly crush developed due to the stadium doors being locked. Sadly, the autocratic government of Nepal decided not to compensate the victims since, as the government reasoned that the fans were the ones who decided to attend the game in the first place.
2. Hillsborough Disaster, England (1989) / Football / Casualties: 96
Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were in the sixth minute of play during the 1989 FA Cup semifinal match when a crush barrier at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England broke. Fans then began to fall one on top of another, a situation no doubt triggered by the police having let too many people into the stadium. Worsening the overcrowding, a chief superintendent had ordered the opening of an exit gate that also had a tunnel leading to two already overcrowded enclosures.
The official inquiry of 1990 found that “the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control.” In fact, in 2012, a Hillsborough Independent Panel found that up to 41 of the 96 fatalities might have been avoided had the victims received prompt medical attention. 766 others were also injured in the incident.
1. Accra Sports Stadium, Ghana (2001) / Football / Casualties: 127
Two of Ghana’s most successful football teams, the Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club and Asante Kotoko, had just completed their match at the Accra Sports Stadium in Ghana on May 9, 2001 when a terrible tragedy took the lives of 127. Accra, the home team, had scored two late goals to put away the match. That broke the hearts of Kotoko fans, who then proceeded to throw plastic bottles and seats onto the pitch. The police attempted to control the situation by firing tear gas into the crowd but instead caused a stampede of panicked fans. After an investigation, six police officers were charged with 127 counts of manslaughter, but the court found that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges, thus letting the officers off the hook.
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