Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
ZIFA have paid tribute to Zimbabwean fans for rallying behind the Warriors in their decisive African Cup of Nations showdown against the Democratic Republic of Congo at the National Sports Stadium on Tuesday where more than 30 000 supporters turned into the 12th man the team badly needed.
The association however, apologised to the multitude of fans who were affected by chaotic scenes that characterised the entry points and resulted in some breaking their way into the stadium.
ZIFA, who revealed that they grossed over $78 000 from the top-of-the-table Group G clash, also admitted they lost substantial revenue in the melee, but have vowed to draw some hard lessons from the scenes ahead of the Warriors final home qualifier against Congo.
A review meeting between ZIFA officials, their sub-committees, security sector officials and other stakeholders yesterday also agreed on the need to re-introduce the pre-sale tickets, but not before fool proof machines have been acquired to avoid being prejudiced by those who rush to produce fakes.
ZIFA communications and competitions manager Xolisani Gwesela issued a statement at the end of the review indaba where he also revealed that some rogue elements clad in Zimbabwe National Army regalia had been caught on camera.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association would like to express sincere gratitude to all supporters who watched the 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifier match between the Warriors and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Tuesday night.
“We are humbled by your support. A total of 13 090 fans paid to watch the match and we collected a gross amount of $78 669,00.
“However, it is the organising committee’s contention that approximately over 30 000 were at the National Sports Stadium to watch the match.
“The association regrets the unfortunate crowd trouble and stampede which occurred at some entry points. We are very thankful that no life was lost.
“The match organisation committee which comprises all relevant stakeholders met on Friday, the 19th of October to introspect on what went wrong and to proffer solutions going into the future,’’ Gwesela said.
Gwesela also reiterated an earlier statement that had been made by the association’s boss Philip Chiyangwa in an interview on Capitalk 100.4 FM, where the ZIFA president while taking responsibility for the football organisation, noted that the soccer body was not entirely at fault for the delays experienced with clearing fans at the entry points.
“We would like to inform our beloved fans that gates were opened at 4pm, well ahead of the 7pm kick-off.
“Twenty-one gates were opened out of the 30 gates because the other nine were not functioning. We utilised all available payment methods which included card swipe machines, cash, and mobile money transfer (EcoCash). All payment points were clearly marked for supporters’ convenience.
“A total of 115 police officers were deployed and law enforcement agents also made arrangements for a reserve force. We had sufficient police officers, but the meeting noted that some delinquents displayed disrespectful behaviour towards the law enforcement agents.
“We also deployed stewards and private security guards.
“The meeting noted that all the roads leading to National
Sports Stadium were congested a few minutes before the match and about 80 percent of our beloved fans struggled to navigate the roads in order to arrive at the stadium before kick-off.
“The committee noted that about 20 percent of the expected fans were at the stadium when the match kicked off.”
Locals fans have a notorious culture of arriving for matches 30 minutes before kick-off, whether it is an afternoon encounter or a night game.
It was also a similar tale on Tuesday, with some being caught in the evening rush hour traffic jam that normally characterise Harare’s streets.
“It became very difficult to serve more than 20 000 fans at once as this is impossible with the current gates we have at the National Sports Stadium. We also experienced network and connectivity challenges at our payment points and this resulted in the slow processing of payments, which culminated in restlessness and crowd trouble.
“The meeting was informed that some rogue elements who were dressed in military uniforms and some unscrupulous stewards also caused mayhem and assisted fans to enter the stadium using undesignated points, demanding bribes in return.
“In a bid to avert a stampede and curb loss of life, the committee also authorised that some gates be opened for fans to enter free of charge.
“We have visual evidence of the criminal behaviour displayed by rogue elements who were in military uniform and we will present it to relevant authorities for further action.
“Going forward, we endeavour to counter such scenarios by introducing pre-match ticket sales and availing adequate entry points.
“We would like to thank our security teams; the Zimbabwe Republic Police, stewards and Peace Security guards for diligently carrying out their duties and exercising minimum force even when there was crowd trouble.
“On that note, we would like to also encourage our beloved supporters to make their way to the stadium a little bit earlier to avoid the last-minute rush.
“All stakeholders were alive to the challenge and the possible fatalities when the crowd forced its way into the stadium. We are glad that no case of injury has been officially reported as at this moment.
“To avoid recurrence of Tuesday’s unfortunate events, all stakeholders involved in the organisation of national team matches have agreed to reactivate the Disaster Management Committee.
“The stadium authorities will endeavour to ensure that all gates are in good working order.
“We shall also conduct regular meetings to ensure that all is in order before matches.
“The committee recommended that all stewards to be employed during matches should be drawn from reputable security organisations and further vetted by the police.
“Once again, we would like to thank everyone who came to the stadium for the amazing support which helped the team get a favourable result towards our goal of AFCON qualification,’’ Gwesela said.
ZIFA also lauded Chidzambwa’s men for virtually securing their place at next year’s finals in Cameroon, with the Warriors now needing a point from their last two games to be absolute about their place.