Cameroon deploys police to control influx of football fans

Ahead of a Cameroon-Gambia knockout match in the ongoing African Cup of Nations soccer in Douala, a commercial hub and coastal city on Saturday, Cameroon said it had deployed 250 additional police officers to control an influx of tens of thousands of supporters . The Central African nation this week reported a stampede that killed eight people and injured 38 during a CAN match in the capital, Yaoundé. The police struggle to contain the large number of fans arriving.

This song, Go Lions Go, by the musical group Tribute Sisters, resounds in the loudspeakers of the bus stations of Yaoundé and Douala. The song says that if the Cameroon national football team, the Indomitable Lions, wins the current Africa Cup of Nations football, Cameroon will be stronger and more united and its people will be proud.

Host country Cameroon play a quarter-final match on Saturday against Gambia in Douala.

Among the Cameroonian supporters in the city is Gilbert Ekosso, a 28-year-old teacher. Ekosso says if he misses this chance, he may never see Cameroon playing against Gambia in a CAN game in his life.

“The last time Cameroon hosted an Africa Cup of Nations was around 50 years ago,” Ekosso said. “It is impossible for me to miss this match between Cameroon and Gambia. It looks like a unique opportunity to see them play here in Douala.”

A soldier stands guard on a street in Yaoundé, Cameroon, January 28, 2022.

Cameroonian police and the Ministry of Sports and Physical Education say tens of thousands of football fans from Cameroonian towns and villages are already in Douala. Police say the 50,000-seat Japoma Stadium, the venue for the match, cannot contain the number of fans jostling for entry tickets.

Narcisse Mouelle Kombi is Cameroon’s Minister of Sports and Physical Education.

Kombi says there is a massive deployment of police to stop the uncivil behavior of Cameroonians who want to force their way into the stadium despite having no tickets and negative COVID-19 test results. He says the police will also ensure that the number of people allowed into the stadium is exactly the number allowed by the Confederation of African Football.

Kombi said that due to COVID-19 restrictions, the confederation has allowed a maximum of 35,000 fans in the stadium. He said fans who are not allowed into the stadium should watch the match on TV.

Cameroonian police chief Martin Mbarga Nguelle visited Douala on Friday and said he was personally making sure the police were doing their job to provide security during matches.

He said the police should not just focus on the fans massed outside the pitch. He said fans at the Douala stadium had invaded the pitch to praise or blame players and match officials on several occasions in previous matches and that this should not happen again.

Last week, CAF reported that 40 fans entered the pitch during a CAN game between Ivory Coast and Algeria. No injuries were reported but CAF fined both teams and condemned Cameroon organizers for insufficient safety measures

This week, Cameroon and CAF ordered an investigation into a stampede that left eight dead and 38 injured at the 60,000-seat Olembe stadium in Yaoundé. The government said fans trying to enter the stadium to watch a CAN match between Cameroon and Comoros overpowered hundreds of police, causing the crash.

Cameroon said entry to the stadium will now start five hours before the game to stop any last-minute rush that could cause another thunderbolt. The government indicates that entry to football stadiums for AFCON matches is now prohibited for children under 11 years of age.

The Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament is taking place in Cameroon despite the ongoing pandemic and threats from separatists to disrupt matches.

The AFCON Championship started on January 9 and will end on February 6.

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