A Dark Day in El Salvador: Tragedy Strikes Soccer Match, Sparking Reflection and Mourning

A Dark Day in El Salvador: Tragedy Strikes Soccer Match, Sparking Reflection and Mourning
The match between Alianza and FAS was suspended due to an avalanche. The initial report is 9 deaths. Photo: Twitter: FAS Sports Club

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – A fevered crowd outside Monumental Stadium in Cuscatlan, a suburb of the nation's capital, turned into a horrifying human stampede on Saturday night, resulting in 12 deaths and dozens injured. The tragic event occurred when angry fans, blocked from entry despite possessing valid tickets, knocked down a small access gate. The ensuing crush brought the Salvadoran soccer league quarterfinal match between local clubs Alianza and Fas to a sudden halt.

Diego Armando, a 14-year-old spectator, recalled the terrifying moment with unsettling clarity: “There were so many people that the small gate couldn’t support them and it went down,” he told Channel 12 television. Trapped in the melee, Diego experienced a harrowing ordeal until five people managed to pull him free. “Two people in front of me died. I spoke to one and he didn’t move,” the teenager added, highlighting the severity of the disaster.

His father, Hectór Rivas, highlighted the cause of the deadly stampede, claiming that the accident was due to only two small gates being open while the rest remained closed. Rivas recounted the sheer panic that spread through the crowd: “People began to push, and I couldn’t even breathe.”

Sixteen minutes into the match, frantic fans in the stands caught the attention of those on the field, and play was immediately suspended. Television broadcasts showed the grim aftermath of the stampede, with the injured being carried onto the field for immediate medical attention.

President Nayib Bukele's office released a statement expressing deep sorrow over the tragic incident, stating, "El Salvador is in mourning." Local fan José Ángel Penado echoed this sentiment, expressing frustration over the gate closure at 7 p.m., despite the match being scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start.

Civil Protection director Luis Amaya reported that approximately 500 people received aid at the stadium, and roughly 100 were transported to local hospitals, with at least two in critical condition.

A visibly shaken Alianza fan, Tomas Renderos, shared his feelings after receiving medical attention: “It was a night of terror. I never thought something like this would happen to me. Fortunately, I only have a few bruises…but not everyone had my luck.”

Pedro Hernández, president of El Salvador's soccer’s first division, and National Civil Police Commissioner Mauricio Arriza Chicas both noted that a criminal investigation would be undertaken in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office to uncover the circumstances leading to this tragedy.

This tragic event in El Salvador's soccer history has reverberated globally, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino expressing condolences during a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva.

The incident at Monumental Stadium is a stark reminder of the vital importance of crowd control and safety measures in public events. As the nation mourns, it is also a time for reflection and learning, to ensure such a catastrophe is never repeated.