ABIDJAN, March 31 – Ivorian authorities vowed Monday to punish those responsible for the Abidjan stadium stampede that killed at least 19 fans before the national team played a World Cup qualifying match.More than 130 were injured in the chaos outside the 35,000-capacity stadium before Ivory Coast played against Malawi in a game that featured several stars from big European clubs, including Chelsea striker Didier Drogba.
"Those responsible will be located very quickly and I am sure that sanctions will be taken," Ivorian Football Federation president Jacques Anouma told state television after attending a government crisis meeting.
Prime Minister Guillaume Soro called together top ministers, police and sports authorities to discuss the government’s response to Sunday’s deadly crush, amid accusations that the huge crowd was swelled by non-ticket holders who had bribed their way past security at the Houphouet-Boigny stadium.
Anouma said he was compiling a detailed report demanded by world football body FIFA.
Stewards working in and around the stadium said fans, desperate to see their European-based idols, forced their way through the gates and tumbled down the steps of the terracing inside to be crushed by those behind.
Many of the supporters had tickets and were angry at being refused entry, witnesses said, saying that the security forces had taken bribes to let many ticketless people into the match.
Many casualties were treated at the stadium as the match, attended by President Laurent Gbagbo, went ahead and the worst injured were taken to the Treichville hospital in Abidjan and a military hospital.
The west African country’s newspapers raised questions on Monday over why the match was allowed to continue as the disaster unfolded in the stands.
At least six of the injured were in a serious condition in hospital on Monday, the health ministry said.
Drogba decried the stampede as a "national drama" on Monday and said players did not know what happened until after the match.
"We only learned about it in the evening after the match," said the Chelsea striker, who scored twice in the home side’s 5-0 win.
"We were shocked, stunned, when we found out there were deaths. We had difficulty understanding what had happened."
The 31-year-old striker said those responsible should be identified and lessons must be learned from the tragedy because "these are the kinds of things that are harming the development of football in Africa."
Meanwhile the families of the victims had the grim task of recovering the bodies of their loved ones from Abidjan’s main morgue.
A tearful Lassana Toure and his wife Mariam arrived at the mortuary to recover the body of his 17-year-old son Aboubacar.
"He told me he was going to support the Elephants, and he never came back," said a sobbing Toure, referring to the national team’s nickname.
The recently renovated stadium has an official capacity of 35,000 but was packed with fans eager to see Ivory Coast’s European-based stars such as Drogba and Salomon Kalou of Chelsea and Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue of Arsenal.
Hundreds of people have been killed in stadium riots and stampedes in Africa over the last decade.
A top World Cup official said measures will be in place at next year’s tournament in South Africa to prevent stampedes like that in Abidjan.
Officials will launch a major spectator education campaign to ensure that fans get to the games early, said Danny Jordaan, the head of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa, in a statement.
"The gates will open three hours before the matches kick-off and this is when fans will be expected to arrive."