Silver Strikers have threatened to boycott Sunday’s Airtel Top 8 Cup second leg quarter-final match against Nyasa Big Bullets if Football Association of Malawi (FAM) maintains Mulanje Park as the venue.
Silver general secretary (GS) Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda yesterday said they have taken the stand as a precautionary measure for the safety of their players, officials and supporters considering the stadium’s small capacity.
The capacity of the newly-built stadium is estimated at 5 000, but games involving the two soccer giants attract not less than 20 000 spectators, a development Nyirenda fears might put lives at risk due to a possible stampede.
The setback comes after the closure of the yet-to-be-renovated Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre, which was the only venue capable of hosting high-profile or crowd-pulling matches in the Southern Region.
“We have written FAM, telling them it is not prudent to schedule such a big match at this small stadium. If FAM does not listen to our plea, we will boycott the match because, to us, the safety of our people is a priority,” Nyirenda said.
He said it is important to learn from the past mistakes as their previous matches against Be Forward Wanderers and Bullets ended in stampedes at smaller venues such as Balaka Stadium and Zomba Community Centre Ground.
Internationally, there had recently been incidents in Egypt and Ivory Coast where some people died due to stampedes as they scrambled to get into the stadia.
But FAM general secretary Alfred Gunda yesterday refused to comment on Silver’s threats.
“We first need to respond to their [Silver’s] letter. I do not have any comment at the moment,” he said.
Nevertheless, soccer analyst George Kaudza Masina backed with the Bankers’ concerns. He said taking the big match to Mulanje Park is even much more dangerous to the safety of football lovers than hosting the game at the condemned Kamuzu Stadium, which was described as a ‘death trap’ by the government and is expected to be renovated.
“Hosting such a big game in Mulanje is a recipe for disaster. FAM could have shifted the game to a bigger venue such as Civo Stadium in Lilongwe. Life is more precious than gold and I believe the safety of people should be prioritised,” he said.
The former FAM acting GS added that regardless of the fact that the competition’s format allows a team playing at home to choose match venue, FAM has the prerogative to allocate games from the quarterfinal stage at any other venue as per the association’s competitions rules.
But FAM competitions manager Gomezgani Zakazaka yesterday said the local soccer governing body is aware of the consequences and they will put in place necessary measures to ensure safety of football lovers.
“We are currently holding meetings with the police and other stakeholders in terms of maximising security at Mulanje Park. However, we will give you a clear picture of everything we are doing to avoid any regrettable incident tomorrow [today],” he said.
But Bullets GS Albert Chigoga said, as hosts, they have agreed with FAM to take precautionary measures such as pre-selling the match tickets, doubling charges to K2 000 in the open stands, K5 000 VIP and intensifying security.
“The pre-sale of tickets will avoid the chaos that might ensue at the gates on the match day. The number of printed tickets will correspond with the stadium’s capacity. Maximum security will not only assist in protecting the citizens but also help in ensuring the safety of the facility,” he said. n