Ahead of a Cameroon-Gambia knockout match in the ongoing Africa Football Cup of Nations in Douala, a commercial hub and coastal city Saturday, Cameroon says it has deployed an additional 250 police officers to control an influx of tens of thousands of fans. The central African nation this week reported a stampede that killed eight people and injured 38 in an AFCON match in the capital, Yaoundé. Police have been struggling to contain the huge number of arriving fans.
This song, Go Lions Go, by the musical group Tribute Sisters, blasts through speakers at bus stations in Yaoundé and Douala. The song says if Cameroon's national football team, the Indomitable Lions, wins the ongoing Africa Football Cup of Nations, Cameroon will be stronger and more united and its people will be proud.
Host Cameroon is playing a quarter-final match Saturday against Gambia in Douala.
Among the Cameroon fans in the city is Gilbert Ekosso, a 28-year-old teacher. Ekosso says if he misses this opportunity, he may never watch Cameroon play against Gambia in an AFCON match in his life.
"The last time Cameroon hosted an Africa Cup of Nations competition was about 50 years ago," Ekosso said. "There is no way I can miss this match between Cameroon and Gambia. It looks like a once in a lifetime opportunity watching them play here in Douala."
Cameroon police and the ministry of Sports and Physical Education say tens of thousands of football fans from Cameroonian towns and villages are already in Douala. The police say the 50,000-seat Japoma stadium, the match venue, cannot contain the number of fans scrambling to get entry tickets.
Narcisse Mouelle Kombi is Cameroon's sports and physical education minister.
Kombi says there is a heavy deployment of the police to stop the uncivil behavior of Cameroonians who want to force themselves into the stadium when they do not have tickets and negative COVID-19 test results. He says the police will also ensure that the number of people admitted into the stadium is exactly the number authorized by the Confederation of African Football.
Kombi said due to COVID-19 restrictions, the confederation has authorized a maximum of 35,000 fans in the stadium. He said fans who are not authorized to enter the stadium should watch the match on TV.
Cameroon police chief Martin Mbarga Nguelle visited Douala Friday and said he was personally making sure police do their job well to ensure safety during matches.
He said the police should not only concentrate on fans massed outside the field. He said fans in the Douala stadium invaded the pitch to congratulate or blame players and match officials several times in previous games and that should not happen again.
Last week, the CAF reported that 40 fans came onto the playing field during an AFCON match between Ivory Coast and Algeria. No injuries were reported but the CAF fined both teams and condemned Cameroonian organizers for insufficient security measures
This week, Cameroon and the CAF ordered an investigation into a stampede that killed eight people and wounded 38 at Yaoundé's 60,000-seat Olembe stadium. The government said fans trying to enter the stadium to watch an AFCON match between Cameroon and the Comoros overpowered hundreds of police, leading to the crush.
Cameroon says entry to the stadium will now begin five hours before the match to stop any last-minute rush that might provoke another crush. The government says entry into football stadiums for AFCON matches is henceforth prohibited for children under 11.
The Africa Football Cup of Nations tournament is taking place in Cameroon despite the ongoing pandemic and threats from separatists to disrupt the games.
The AFCON championship started on January 9 and will end February 6.