The main—close to the entire—case for the English & Welsh government's ban on standing terraces in football stadia in the top two tiers is that standing is unsafe, pointing particularly to disasters where many lost their lives. Previously, I pointed out that standing in seated areas (which is an accepted part of the current system) has its own risks. Here I want to point out that many of the worst footballing disasters have not been associated with standing at all. Of course, the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster was associated with fans in standing pens, but though the Taylor Report into the disaster recommended all-seater stadia as a solution, it did not actually blame standing for the tragedy itself. Instead, the report points at poor organisation as the main problem, both in ticketing and crowd management.
The immediate cause of the gross overcrowding and hence the disaster was the failure, when gate C was opened, to cut off access to the central pens which were already overfull.
They were already overfull because no safe maximum capacities had been laid down, no attempt was made to control entry to individual pens numerically and there was no effective visual monitoring of crowd density.
When the influx from gate C entered pen 3, the layout of the barriers there afforded less protection than it should and a barrier collapsed. Again, the lack of vigilant monitoring caused a sluggish reaction and response when the crush occurred. The small size and number of gates to the track retarded rescue efforts. So, in the initial stages, did lack of leadership.
In their excellent 2007 report on the topic (pdf), the Football Supporters' Federation takes this further, pointing out that in the biggest disasters since Hillsborough—in Harare in 2000, Johannesburg in 2000 and Accra in 2001—all occurred in all-seater stadia. The same is true of most disasters preceding Hillsborough, including the infamous incident at Heysel.
Since their paper is now almost nine years old, I did a quick review of all of the other recent stadium disasters I could find, and most of them were unrelated to standing or happened in all-seater stadia as well.
- The 2006 PhilSports arena stampede that killed 74 and injured 627 (Philippines)
- The 2015 Zamalek stadium stampede that killed 19-30 and injured many more (Egypt)
- The 2009 Houphouët-Boigny stampede that killed 19 and injured 132 and the 2013 stampede that killed 60 and injured 200 (Cote d'Ivoire)
- The 2008 Matokeo riot-stampede that killed 13 and injured 36 (Congo)
- The 2008 Mbizo stampede that killed 11 and injured 40 (Zimbabwe)
- The 2013 Cidadela Desportiva crush that killed something like 16 (Angola)
There are other examples which are harder to categorise, but which rarely or never look like failures of standing. In most of the tragedies I've deemed unrelated to standing, the crush came when people exited, or when police tried to control crowds by firing indiscriminate tear gas, causing a riot. Others are down to fake tickets and over-attendance. But it's clear that standing has played only an incidental role in most disasters—the case against standing per se is weak.