BY DAYO ADESULU
The President of Ghana Rugby and Former Chairman of Kumasi Asante Kotoko, Mr Herbert Mensah, echoed the COVID-19 call for “Safety First” at the 19th commemoration anniversary of the tragic Accra Sports Stadium disaster that struck on 9 May 2001 in Accra, Ghana.
Due to restrictions imposed as a result of the 2020 novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, this year’s commemoration was limited to a small gathering of persons with disability who again received mobility aids donated by DESO.
DESO (Disabled Equipment Sent Overseas) is a UK based charity run by ‘Aunty Mavis’, a British-Ghanaian woman whose charity work in Ghana spans over 64 years.
A number of Ghana Rugby’s national men’s and women’s players, the Ghana Eagles, who wore Ghana Rugby branded face masks with the message, “PLAY YOUR PART. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE” helped with the logistics during the event.
At the occasion in Accra, Mensah said that not even the severe disruptions and restrictions of a virus must be allowed to prevent the remembrance of the tragic event on 9 May 2001 when one-hundred-and-twenty-six (126) young Ghanaians who had gone to the Accra Sports Stadium to watch the beautiful game of football lost their lives.
“For the past eighteen years, a group of us have marked May 9th by maintaining awareness of the events surrounding this tragedy as well as the families involved, including the issues of stadium safety and proper governance in Ghana.
‘Safety of the football family was not given the proper priority then and we have to remind our sports administrators again and again that, “Safety first” is not only important but that it is a responsibility and duty,” Mensah said.
Mensah said that it is ironic that the 19th annual commemoration of the stadium disaster coincides with a time when the call for “safety first” tops the global agenda.
With the Coronavirus in the air, I again call for “safety first” and for all to heed the guidelines of wearing face masks and to keep up with maintaining social distances
“In 2001 safety was not on the agenda, and 126 young football fans lost their lives needlessly. With the Coronavirus in the air, I again call for “safety first” and for all to heed the guidelines of wearing face masks and to keep up with maintaining social distances. If we all do not play our part in this regard we may see another tragedy of even greater proportions in Ghana,” Mensah said.
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Mensah also said that the safety of players and the public in all aspects of sports administration will always be high on his agenda.
“The lesson of May 9, 2001, to me is that one can never neglect the duty of safety on or off-the-field. The loss of life is unacceptable when administrators do not fulfil their duty to prevent it. Ghana Rugby recently launched a programme, EagleWise, in cooperation with BokSmart of the South African Rugby Union that will focus on aspects of player safety and welfare. We have also embarked on an elaborate ‘STAY SAFE’ programme during the COVID-19 period that I hope would have helped to save lives, Mensah said.
The traditional events that earmark the awareness campaign of the “May 9th Remembered” movement that was initiated by Mensah will not take place in 2020. Since 2001 the Mensah-led campaign included a massive streetwalk in Kumasi, prayers at the Kumasi Central Mosque and visits to families of the deceased.
The events for 2020 included the welcome presentation of the DESO mobility aids to persons with disability as well as visits to selected families of the deceased, accompanied by parcels of foodstuff.
“I am again grateful to the companies who have again shown solidarity with the cause of May 9th Remembered by donating money to defray costs and/or foodstuff for families of the deceased. This year Interplast, Sunda International and GB Foods again played their part. Without their support, the flame of the cause of “May 9th Remembered” for due diligence when it comes to sports administration will be difficult if not impossible to keep burning,” Mensah said.
Mensah also said that the Movement will “make up” in 2021 for the limited remembrance events caused by COVID-19 this year.