Trinidad and Tobago


Fools rush in

February 14, 2001

RUNNING parallel to the planned investigation of last Sunday’s North Stand fiasco should be an inquiry into responses from patrons who found themselves displaced by the causative circumstances.

As I understand it, a large number of people holding North Stand tickets for Sunday’s Panorama preliminaries argued to the point of physical contact with security officials, after being repeatedly told it was unsafe to return to the facility.

“Scores of angry patrons clashed with security guards,” said one radio news item, conjuring up images of a confrontation in the Middle East, where people with a history of armed conflict frequently assault police, using fierce and often deadly weapons.

Of course, Sunday’s situation was nowhere near that. In the distillate, all that happened here was a noble attempt to avoid repeating the tragedy that occurred at last November’s Real Unity concert, where the VIP stand collapsed, causing injury to several patrons.

Last Sunday, after consultation with engineering experts, police identified a potential North Stand hazard at around 4 p.m. As fate would have it, their findings came shortly before the anxiously awaited performance of the prize-winning Witco Desperadoes.

Understandably, no man investing in a ticket for the Panorama day on which Despers plays can be reasonably expected to enjoy separation from his posse at the material time. Even without such passion for the Laventille band, picture the young lady who came with a group of friends, now finding herself outside the gate, rendered vulnerable by events not of her own making.

But a stress test carried out by the National Carnival Commission (NCC) revealed that the structure was under as much load as it was cleared to carry. Assistant Police Commissioner Winston Matthews quite rightly felt the situation would be aggravated, perhaps to the point of fatality, if any more people were let into the North Stand.

It was that simple. Although these wonderful people were holding genuine tickets and many had been in the North Stand prior to this latest scientific discovery, based on the “last straw” principle, the cops decided to try and save a few lives by refusing re-entry.

But the displaced pan lovers would have none of that. I could almost hear them saying: “Save my life? Who asked you? Me? Not today, thanks. This is Panorama in the Big Yard and Despers comin’ just now! If you really have my welfare at heart, you would wait until I rejoin my posse and take a liquor, before worrying about whether the damn stand will collapse!” Mark you, nowhere did I read or hear that patrons who had previously been partying in the North Stand would be spared injury if allowed to return and things went awry. Nor did anyone indicate that only new arrivals would increase the level of risk.

Pan Trinbago, producers of Sunday’s event, offered the displaced patrons accommodation in the Grand Stand, but they would have none of that either. They had purchased tickets for the North Stand and were not about to have any caution or logic intervene to stop them from returning to the posse, even if it meant jeopardising personal safety.

Now, in pondering responses from affected patrons, it is useful to reflect upon the widely held perception that among the people who prefer the North Stand are some of society’s finest minds. They who in the everyday conduct of business affairs understand risk and weigh options.

They are bright. I’ll have you know many of them are so astute, they even identify commercial opportunities in Panorama, some holding all-inclusive fetes in the North Stand, featuring the house DJ and the 25 participating steel orchestras. Very clever folks, these, capitalising on readily available music, venue, existing public liability insurance, generic advertising and ambience.

Every posse displays its advertising banner without having to pay the show-producer one cent, some even block off little corrals for their all-inclusive patrons and print T-shirts for sale. This year, for standing room only, North Stand patrons actually paid 25 per cent more than their seated counterparts in the Grand Stand, even though for the additional fee, they only got to see the backs of performing pannists.

You see, the North Stand patron is of a special breed. But with all the intelligence reposed there, some patently stupid rejoinders came from the Northies who could not get back into their favourite hangout.

A sound bite on the NBN News at 8 a.m. Monday featured one screaming North Stand patriot asking the profound question: “Who is going to reimburse me my $15?” He was evidently sober enough to come up with the right result, after subtracting the cost of Grand Stand tickets from those of his preferred accommodation. Perhaps he should have advanced his argument just a tad, by also telling us the price of a wheelchair or hospitalisation at a preferred clinic.

Up to yesterday, my phone was still ringing, callers asking me to “Write something about this craziness, where we bought tickets for the North Stand and officials were saying we cannot go in.” More than a few threatened to sue whoever was responsible for them not having a chance to fracture their hips or lose an eye.

Now, none of this is intended to absolve from blame those persons whose responsibilities included avoidance of the fiasco. Nor should my position be seen as excusing the collapse of gate-control, or a condoning of excessive force used by police and apparently ill-prepared security guards.

Images on Monday night television were decidedly unpleasant, with Express photographer Kenrick Bobb being manhandled while pursuing his job and patrons “clashing” with the authorities. That too warrants an inquiry, but my continuing consternation is at this bunch of bright people who were dying to get into a place deemed potentially unsafe.

Perhaps as a form of consolation, Pan Trinbago should award them free airline tickets to the next massacre or major earthquake available anywhere in the world, or to any place where angels fear to tread.


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