Report on Teddy soccer crush treats police gently

Police report blames stadium infrastructure, fans' behavior, and the decision to reduce the number of police assigned to the game.

Betar crush 298 (photo credit: AP)
Betar crush 298
(photo credit: AP)
There were no great surprises Tuesday when police released to the public the final report of the committee probing last week's stampede at Teddy Stadium, in which dozens of Betar fans were injured in an attempt to rush the pitch. "The committee found that all of the planning work of the Jerusalem Police District was suitable and was carried out in accordance with regulations," the committee members wrote in their final report, which demurred from issuing any personal findings against police officers. It was not the gates that were opened less than two minutes after the end of the game, but rather a security barrier beyond the gates, police found, that formed the bottleneck in which fans were crushed. Only after fire and rescue teams sliced through the barrier were fans were able to break free of the crush. Rather than using language assigning "responsibility" for the stampede, the report pointed at "three main factors that led to the events in the stadium": the stadium infrastructure, the fans' behavior, and the decision to reduce the number of police assigned to the game. The report used language slightly stronger than usual to describe the behavior of the fans, accusing them of deciding "to celebrate on the pitch at any price" and of "trampling those in their way." While acknowledging that the police had been understaffed, the report emphasized that the decision was understandable and that those police who were on the scene performed valuable work "saving human lives." In examining the use of fences to separate fans from the pitch, the committee looked at three European countries' policies on stadium barriers. Ultimately, the committee chose to maintain the status quo vis-a-vis the fences, and emphasizing that the district commander was the sole person with the authority to remove them. The report did, however, emphasize that the other infrastructure problems identified by the committee must be corrected, including installing a higher ratio of gates to the field per number of fans in each seating bloc. Perhaps the most important finding in the report's long-term outlook was the recommendation that last week's crush serve "as a lever" for adopting the European model, which places the responsibility for maintaining order on the pitch with the soccer clubs, and not the police.