At least eight fans were killed and 38 people injured at the Yaounde Olembe Stadium in Cameroon on Monday before the host nation's round of 16 match in the Africa Cup of Nations, the government said in a statement.
Images shared on social media, showed screaming fans being crushed at an entrance gate before the game against Comoros.
According to eyewitness reports, people were “trampled” upon as fans forced their way into the stadium.
Children are also believed to be among those involved in the tragedy with others adding that the struggle began when stewards closed the gates and stopped allowing people into the stadium.
Some 50,000 people had attempted to attend the match at the 60,000 capacity stadium. However, due to Covid restrictions only 80 per cent of fans were allowed in. Experts with knowledge of the stadium’s layout suggested the number of entrances may have been inadequate for the number of people who attempted to gain access.
“There was the kind of stampede we witness everywhere where there are these kinds of large crowd movements,” AFCON organising committee spokesman Abel Mbengue told L'Equipe. “We are waiting for reliable information on the victims.”
The Confederation of African Football (CAF), the continent's football governing body, said in a statement that it was investigating.
“CAF is currently investigating the situation and trying to get more details on what transpired. We are in constant communication with Cameroon government and the Local Organising Committee,” it said.
One of the federation's top officials, general secretary Veron Mosengo-Omba, went to visit injured fans in the hospital, the statement said.
The football world has gathered in mourning over the incident paying tribute to fans who lost their lives.
Fifa sent its “deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims” in a statement. And European football governing body, Uefa said: “On behalf of the European football community, Uefa sends our deepest condolences to all those affected by the tragic events outside the Paul Biya Stadium in Cameroon last night.”
Following a low turnout in the first round games at brand new stadiums built for the continent's premier men's soccer tournament, Cameroon authorities have thrown open stadium gates, organised mass transport and given out free tickets to lure fans.
Monday's incident was the second serious blow to the country in the space of a day, after at least 17 people died from a fire set off by a series of explosions at a nightclub in Yaounde on Sunday.
Following that incident, Cameroon president Paul Biya urged the country to be on guard while it hosts its biggest national sports event in a half-century.
Cameroon won the game 2-1 to reach the quarterfinals.
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