Owning a football viewing centre has proved to be quite a rewarding and popular enterprise in Nigeria. This is more especially so during European football seasons when numerous fans throng the viewing centres on weekends or selected weekdays to relax and catch a glimpse of their favourite footballers – from Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard to Paul Pogba.
Quite expectedly, the owners of such meeting joints smile to the bank. But as lucrative as the business is, there is a downside: few owners of these viewing centres take comfortability considerations and safety precautions necessary when gathering a horde of people.
Back when serving in the North, desperate to see Chelsea FC play, I left my apartment to see one of the Champion’s League games against Barcelona FC of Spain. From the planks to the zincs and other materials used to construct the jerry-built house serving as the viewing centre, the contraption appeared like a loosely-tied wrapper threatening to take flight at the slightest sight of wind. Even the rickety benches looked as if they had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with backache.
It then started raining. Many parts of the zinc were leaking at varying degrees and I couldn’t help but begin to wonder where all the N100 collected from patrons were going if proper building materials could not be purchased and basic level of comfortability could not be assured. It was a wonder that the building did not disintegrate over our heads.
Aside comfortability, the safety of patrons should also get prominence in light of recent unfortunate events at viewing centres. On October 15, 2016, Leicester City-fan Nasiru Yahaya, 28, viciously stabbed his friend, Aliyu Saidu, a Chelsea fan, at a viewing centre in Hausawa area of Madalla, Niger State. According to a witness, the duo placed a bet on which of the two sides would emerge victorious from the encounter and Chelsea triumphed, but Yahaya refused to release his bet money. This led to an argument, then a fight and finally Saidu’s stabbing. The witness said Yahaya ran into a nearby shop, carried a bottle, broke it and stabbed his friend on his hands and back.
On 30th April 2014, a 29-year-old Saheed Badmus went to a viewing centre on Lamina Street, Egbe, Lagos State, to watch the UEFA Champions League semi-final match between Chelsea Football Club and Atletico Madrid, little did he know that was the last match he would ever watch.
It was learnt that the graduate of Ekiti State Polytechnic was stabbed to death by a barber identified only as Yemi, during an argument that broke out at the viewing centre.
It was reported that passions were high at the viewing centre as most of the Chelsea fans were desperate to see their team qualify.
It was learnt that during the match, Saheed stood up and Yemi shouted at him and told him to sit down as he was blocking him from viewing the match on the screen.
It was learnt that as Saheed ran for his life, Yemi chased him and then stabbed him in the face. When some of the viewers came out, they saw the deceased’s lying in a pool of blood.
He was rushed to two hospitals, but he was rejected. He however was pronounced dead by the time he was taken to Igando General Hospital.
In 2008, a Manchester United supporter, Christopher Udoh, macheted his Chelsea-supporter bosom friend, Elerus Patrick to death in Ijanikin, Lagos over an argument about the two rival clubs. The media reported at the time that Udoh’s action was a retaliatory act, after Patrick hit him with a log of wood. The victim was said to have become unconscious after he was macheted and was rushed to a private hospital, but died on the way.
Against this backdrop, priority attention ought to be given to safety measures when setting up a viewing centre. Just as the pleasure derived from watching a game of football game cannot be denied, safety precautions should also not be compromised.
A football viewing centre, the likes patronized in Nigeria, could be classified to an events centre; they are seen as complex activities that require knowledge and good planning, and it is very important that planning for safety, health and security forms the part of the overall planning of setting up such viewing centres. Planning for safety must begin simultaneously with all other planning.
The main objective here is to achieve predictability, thereby enhancing the conditions for a safe viewing centre. It is vital to acquire knowledge of what the risks are, what might happen and what is required to ensure a safe and secure experience for the crowd and the employees alike.
Football as a sport has been one of the most followed and talked about in Nigeria, and it is supported by young and old, male and, to a lesser degree, female, with teams like Chelsea, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Manchester united and Barcelona boasting many followers in the country. As many of these ardent fans cannot travel to physically watch their favourite teams play because of the financial implications, they are confined to watching them on television in viewing centres.
With the rate of football fans trooping into various viewing centres, many owners of these viewing centres have yet to take into consideration the various safety precautions that can forestall wanton loss of lives and properties when tensions rise, as they usually, regrettably, do.
An event safety expert, Mrs. Oluwakemi Eboda, pointed out that government should consider it a duty to regulate viewing centres, including the construction of the buildings used.
She added, “Football fans alongside owners of these viewing centres do not understand that there are risks involved, which range from suffocation to arguments, which in turn may lead to physical confrontation, and at times has resulted into death”.
Mrs. Eboda, who spoke in a telephone chat with Safety Record Newspaper, also mentioned that owners of such centres may not be familiar with the major safety hazards involved and also find it very difficult to deploy appropriate strategies commensurate with the type of behavior exhibited by patrons.
Basic safety hazards in a viewing centre
Owners of viewing centres appear unmindful of what may happen when accidents occur as their customers are glued to the television sets rooting for their favourite teams.
Emergency Exit: Most viewing centres in Nigeria have just one exit, which also serves as the entrance, not bearing in mind what might happen should that exit be inaccessible in case of an unforeseen incident. Emergency exit is seen as a special exit which allows for faster evacuation, and provides an alternative if the route to regular exit is blocked by any occurrence.
Speaking on the layout of viewing centres, Mrs. Eboda said that though necessary proper layout is not taken into consideration which may result in an accident. She therefore advised owners to take cognizance and plan for an emergency exit when setting up a viewing centre.
Bad construction/Inappropriate building materials: The use of trampoline in viewing centres is significantly dangerous. We also see the use of planks in constructing such centres which is likely to cause huge amount of damage should there be a fire outbreak. There are also no parameters being set aside on the basic standard or kind of structure to be constructed when setting up such viewing centers.
Poor or No Ventilation: Poor ventilation in some viewing centres could lead to health problems for occupants, architecture experts have warned. A lack of air vents or open windows leads to a build-up of pollutants and chemicals from furniture.
Generator Fumes: Due to poor supply of electricity in Nigeria, generators have become a major source of power. Major viewing centres powering their business with generators do not take cognizance of the fumes that come from the generators, which are known sources of air pollution. The air they release is toxic to human health.
Things to do before planning for a sport viewing centre
- Consider the key risks to the viewing centre and those people present.
- Using the resources available to you onsite, develop emergency procedures to be followed by staff and volunteers in an emergency, e.g. a fire or structural failure.
- Include contingencies to deal with incidents and situations as varied as an entertainment act cancelling at short notice, severe weather, or the unavailability of key staff in your team.
- You will also need to consider your response to more serious emergencies, including major incidents that will require the help of the emergency services and implementation of their regional emergency plans (which may not be specific to the viewing centre).
- Draw up and discuss your plans with the police, fire and rescue service, ambulance service, emergency planning.