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The Five Worst Stadium Disasters of All Time: Lessons Learnt for Safety and Effective Evacuation

One of the top priorities of the sports venues operators is to ensure the security and safety of the spectators. In this direction, they implement a wide range of security, safety, and resilience measures. For instance, they establish well-structured safety and security plans for the stadium in-line with applicable regulations such as FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) mandates in the case of football. As another example, they perform regular risk assessments for their sports facilities, while at the same time establishing contingency and emergency plans. Likewise, they also collaborate with Law Enforcement Agencies in performing security checks and handling any incidents that may arise.

Nowadays most fans consider stadiums as safe and resilient environments, which is largely due to the evolution of the security infrastructures and operations of modern Athletic Venues. This evolution has considered best practices and lessons learnt from some large-scale security and safety incidents in history, notably incidents that went beyond the control of the supporters, the stadium operators, and the authorities. A brief review of these incidents provides an excellent motivation for creating security and safety plans in-line with international best practices. Furthermore, it helps understanding modern security and safety measures, while projecting future developments.

1. The Heysel Stadium Disaster

One of the most notorious stadium disasters took place on May 29, 1985 in Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium. The disaster happened during the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus. Before the commencement of the game, Liverpool fans threw stones at the Juventus fans. This caused Juventus fans to attempt to move to other stands. As a result of the riots a total of 39 fans died due to suffocation or because of their crush against a perimeter wall. The crumbling structures of the stadium was among the reasons for the fatalities. Overall, the safety plans during that night were proven weak and ineffective.

2. The Hillsborough Case

The Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield is also associated with one of the worst stadium disasters of all time. Specifically, on April 15, 1989, during an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, a human crush in the stands of the Stadium took place leading to a death toll of 96 people. However, the incident also manifested the risks of conventional construction architectures of British stadiums. Following the Hillsborough disaster, a shift towards all-seater stadia was recommended and gradually implemented by British teams.

3. The Kathmandu Stadium Panic Disaster

One of the greatest disasters in athletic events’ history took place on March 12, 1988, in the Dasarath Rangasala, in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. Nearly 80 people died due to panic when trying to exit the stadium following a huge hailstorm outbreak. Specifically, the crowd attempted to exit the stadium through a tunnel, which caused a fatal stampede. The incident manifested the importance of proper evacuation plans. It also illustrated that such plans must be in place not only for cases of riots, but also in response to natural disasters.

4. The 1971 Disaster in Ibrox, Glasgow

One of the greatest and most memorable tragedies of football took place in 1971, in Ibrox stadium. It occurred when supporters attempted to leave the stadium before the end of the game. One person fell in some stairs and many deaths were caused due to the stampede. A total of 66 people lost their lives, while many others were injured. The architecture of the Ibrox facility was clearly problematic. Nevertheless, there was also an absence of a proper evacuation plan.

5. The Luzhniki and Karaiskaki Overcrowding Incidents

Unfortunately, the Ibrox case is not the sole overcrowding incident that led to serious death toll. Similar incidents took place during the 80s, namely:

  • In Luzhniki Stadium in Russia in 1982, where 66 people died and 61 were injured due to overcrowding.

  • In Karaiskaki Stadium in Greece in 1981, where 21 people died of suffocation because of a large crowd that tried to leave a certain gate (“Gate 7”) of the stadium.

Modern Challenges in Stadium’s Security, Safety and Resilience

Nowadays, overcrowding, and panic disaster incidents seem less likely. This is largely due to changes in the safety specifications of the stadiums during their construction and operation. For example, in UEFA Champions League games, it is mandatory for every support to have a seat, even though this reduced the capacity of some stadiums. Furthermore, stadium operators employ well structured safety measures and evacuation plans, which are backed-up by technological advances like CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) Cameras, e-ticketing systems, and stewards’ communication tools (e.g., mobile apps). Nevertheless, these measures are designed and applied in a new context where new challenges have arisen. As a prominent example, the recent COVID19 pandemic outbreak has introduced new operational requirements and safety restrictions. The latter are addressed by modern technology platforms for evacuation, such as the platform of the H2020 EvaGuide project. Specifically, EVAGUIDE has recently complemented its state-of-the-art evacuation planning and security functionalities with support for operating under COVID19 related capacity restrictions and safety measures.

From the Ibrox and Hillsborough disasters, to the recent COVID19 restrictions, evacuation and security measures are proven essential for creating a safe and resilient environment for supporters. EVAGUIDE’s technology offers leading edge functionalities that can set the security of your Stadium apart from other Venues.


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