As undergraduates in 2009, my friend and I attended the FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinal game between Switzerland and Italy at the Dipo Dina Stadium in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State. This was my first time of witnessing first-hand a stampede situation. Despite having our tickets, we had to slug it out with other fans to gain entrance into the stadium.

The issue of crowd control emerged because fans, many of whom did not possess tickets, were agitating to enter into the stadium and were turned down. But all of a sudden, the gate was thrown wide open and a stampede occurred. Many eager fans were injured and many others lost valuables. My friend and I were lucky to escape unhurt. Perhaps my saving grace was never letting go my friend’s hand because one of us would surely have been on the floor and God knows what would have happened.

Stampede is just one of the many dangers spectators at sporting events in Nigeria are exposed to. Another present danger is violence. There was chaos during a Nigeria Premier League game involving Shooting Stars and Gombe United when a Shooting Stars player was stabbed, sending the team’s supporters into overdrive. Gombe United fans reportedly went wild immediately after the final whistle, despite winning the game under questionable circumstances. 3SC players and supporters were attacked at the Pantami Stadium, Gombe venue of the game by the host fans.

Violence is a visible part of today’s sport scene within and across Nigeria, whether because of the increasing violent incident in and around the sport world, increasing attention from media when violent acts occur, or a combination of both, violence is more prevalent in sport today than in years past.

Incidencts Behind The Safety Of Sport Fans

Sporting events most especially football has been associated with violence since its beginning in the 13th century in England. It is also stated that the familiar behaviour now known as “football hooliganism” originated in the early 1960s.

As a result of violence and other factors, accidents continue to happen within sport venues, and facility managers of major sports venues find themselves in a difficult position in protecting spectators in various stadia. To better do their jobs, facility managers will need to look at the types of accidents so that particular solutions can be found for each type of accident. Reports show that fans accidents occur during and after games at a variety of sports venues as a result of flying objects, falls, or mismanagement by facility managers.

The Issue of Safety of Spectators At Sporting Event

The safety and security of all spectators, players, officials, guests, and other persons present during a game are usually addressed by bodies governing the particular sport in question. The duty of care for these categories of persons is also hinged on specific persons and bodies. According to “FIFA Stadium Safety and Security Regulations,” the world football governing body stipulates that national security officers and the stadium safety and security management team should ensure the safety of persons present during a football game within a stadium.

However, because of inadequacies of safety and security infrastructure and systems, there are safety concerns regarding accidents which occur when stadium personnel and game planners allow overcrowding by selling more tickets beyond the venue’s capacity.

Because of various concerns, chief of which is consideration for safety, many sport venues in Nigeria are witnessing low patronage. Time was when various stadia in the country were packed full during league games. That now seems like a long forgotten dream compared to the extremely low attendance levels of present time.

Speaking with Safety Record Newspaper in a telephone chat, the Secretary of the Lagos State Coaches Association, Rasheed Itebalume stated that it would take time for violence to be eradicated at sporting events, stressing that total reorientation was needed for violent spectators.

He said, “The spectators who come into sporting events need to have that full orientation about being at peace with one another for violence not to emerge.”

The coach noted that insuring sporting facilities could also hold the key to addressing the problems.

“The safety of the stadium lies with the facility managers which includes regular maintenance of the stadium. By so doing, if stadia are well insured the responsibility of any insured spectators lies between the facility manager and partially the organisers of the event.”

Factors Contributing to Spectator Violence in Stadia

It is important to recognize the characteristics of each sporting event centres, and available staff that may increase spectator aggression. No single characteristic of these elements can guarantee that violence will or will not occur. However, a combination of poorly-designed physical environments, high-energy events, and poorly trained or inexperienced staff will increase the likelihood of spectator violence.

The need for facilities and safety management has been regarded as the most important aspects in public facilities, especially in an outdoor stadium during emergency situations such as demonstration, fire, terrorist attacks or overcrowding.

Accidents involving spectators occur at sports facilities around the globe. Many of the incidents are beyond human control and others fall within that precinct but the systems put in place to address situations that may arise from such incidents can boost or erode spectator confidence.

Responsibility of Injured Spectators at Sporting Event

There are millions of people attending sporting events as spectators every year. Most of the spectators are aware that there is some risk of injury in attending such events -for example, being hit by a foul ball at a baseball game. Few, if any, consciously analyse all the potential risks associated with viewing a particular sporting event.

Courts have recognised that certain risks are inherent in sporting events, including injuries among spectators, and have often imposed limited duties on the owners of the facilities and organisers of the sporting events. Lawyers on the other hand, have looked forward in ensuring the safety of spectators at sporting events by bringing personal injury actions for injuries of spectators. These claims are usually brought under negligence theory.

A legal practitioner, Barrister M.O Williams said that the business owner, who happens to be a sporting event organiser, in this case, is liable for whatever happens to an individual on his premises. He said this is also called the occupier liability.

“Occupier liability is the responsibility which the occupant of the premises bears in respect of loss or injury occasioned to anyone who lawfully comes upon his premises as a result of the detectives’ dangerous or negligent condition of the premises,” he said.

On the issue of negligence, he stated that when one knows that a certain incident is meant to happen in an event, the organiser of the event can’t be liable.

To reduce such incidents, safety professionals say enlightenment and sensitisation must be aggressively pursued.

Event safety professional, Barr Oluwakemi Eboda said communication is the key towards enlightening spectators about negative impacts of crowd violence at sporting events.

“Screening of spectators should also be implemented to guard against the possession of harmful or dangerous weapons which can be used as tools to sustain violence.”

Speaking on the liability of the spectators in case injuries occurs, Eboda stated that it is a collective responsibility of both the spectators and the organisers to ensure that injury is not sustained by anyone who attends a sporting event.

She said, “However, the organisers owe a duty of care to spectators and this duty is an onerous one which must not be handled with levity. This is because an organiser of a sporting event must have conducted risk assessment of the event which would have exposed to a large extent the potential or inherent dangers and they must have devised control measures on how to avoid, control or manage such hazards should they occur.

“Now, the duty is shared if effective communication was implemented, warning spectators of how they are expected to coordinate themselves and punitive measures for any gross misconduct. Where the organizers fail to do this then their liability becomes extensive.”

Eboda, who is the Chief Responsibility Officer (CRO) of Event Basics Limited, said “organisers cannot be liable when an individual is aware of danger. This is because there are inherent risks in every sporting event which participant is expected or supposedly aware of before undergoing the event.”

“When an injury occurs which is one anticipated, then the organiser cannot be held liable except a case of negligence can be established. A duty must however be owed; it must have been breached and sustained before a suit of negligence can be entertained in the court of law.

“Moreover, the only safety measure is the provision of first aiders who attend to injured athletes. This is grossly inadequate as there are more risks involved than minor cuts and bruises. An event risk and safety professional must be engaged at the inception of the plan to host a sporting event.

“Every stage of the plan or project must be analysed in details whether they are worthy to be carried out, substituted, cancelled, controlled or managed. The presence of Civil Defence or the Police Force at sporting events is a reactive measure rather preventive measure which should be employed,” she disclosed.