Mateo Flores Stadium Disaster

Soccer fans stampeded before a World Cup qualifying match, crushing and smothering one another in panic in one of the worst sports tragedies in years.

At least 82 people - some of them children - were killed and 127 were hurt, officials said yesterday.

President Alvaro Arzu, who witnessed Wednesday night's mayhem from a box seat at the Mateo Flores National Stadium in Guatemala City, called off Guatemala's match with Costa Rica and declared three days of national mourning.

"It's terrible! It's terrible!" said Marlon Ivan Leon, a defender for the Guatemalan national team who stood sobbing by a long row of bodies lined up on the track inside the stadium. The team's head coach, Horacio Cordero, said: "What does soccer matter now?"

For reasons as yet unknown, scores of spectators were killed in a crowd stampede in the Mateo Flores Stadium in Guatemala City just before a match between Guatemala and Costs Rica in the preliminary competition of the 1998 World Cup on 16 October. Initial reports talk of 80 dead. Numerous fans were injured, some of them seriously.

In his initial brief account, the FIFA match commissioner pointed out that some forged match tickets had apparently been sold and that consequently too many fans had wanted to gain access to the stadium. According to reports, as the Costa Rican team was warming up on the pitch at 19.30 hours local time, it seems that some fans kicked down a entrance door to the south stands, causing other spectators to tumble down to the lower levels of the stands. Even though the security forces released the emergency gates to the pitch, several people died in the crush.

The heads of state of Guatemala and Costa Rica were also intending to attend the game. The President of Guatemala immediately went to the scene of the tragedy and called for three days of national mourning.

On October 16, 1996, minutes before a 1998 FIFA World Cup qualification match between Guatemala and Costa Rica was to take place, at least 83 people were killed and more than 140 injured as an excessive number of fans attempted to enter the General Sur section, creating a human avalanche into the bottom of the stands, which is separated from the field by a fence. The sale of counterfeit tickets led to the excess of attending public, and the improper design of the building in the event of an emergency caused the fans to stampede and fall onto each other, causing many people to suffocate, in one of the worst tragedies to have occurred in a sports stadium.

The football match was immediately suspended by Guatemala President Alvaro ArzĂș, who was attending the event, and FIFA suspended the use of the stadium for official international matches until the safety issues were resolved, a ban that lasted over two years. Some of the problems have been addressed since, but the facility still presents multiple safety issues related to access and egress, and is considered prone to the occurrence of another emergency situation in the event of high attendance.