Death of schoolboy hit by goalpost ruled a misadventure

Wan Ting Koh
The incident occurred at Geylang Methodist Secondary School.

The death of a schoolboy who was struck by a goalpost he had grabbed onto was ruled a misadventure in the Coroner’s Court on Monday (18 September).

Muhammad Hambali Sumathi, a secondary one student from Geylang Methodist Secondary School,  had grabbed the crossbar of the goalpost during a physical education lesson on 24 April this year, causing the structure to fall and hit his head.

The unconscious boy was conveyed to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital where he succumbed to his head injuries. Hambali, 12, was pronounced dead at 11.10am.

An inquiry to his death found that the incident occurred around 9.30am when Hambali was playing football with his classmates. The boys were using a smaller goalpost for the session.

Hambali had passed the ball to a teammate who failed to score a goal. Frustrated, Hambali had gone to the bigger goalpost, which was not in use at that time, and grabbed onto its overhead crossbar. A few classmates saw Hambali exclaiming in anger and frustration at the miss.

He swung his body towards the goalpost netting and his feet were entangled in the net. Students then saw the goalpost fall, with the cross bar and the goalpost striking Hambali’s head.

Students and teachers rushed to lift the goalpost off Hambali, who was bleeding from his nose, mouth and ear. A teacher rendered first aid assistance to the boy after finding his pulse weak. An ambulance was called shortly afterwards.

In his findings, State Coroner Marvin Bay said that Hambali had grabbed the goalpost at an angle offset towards its left. This resulted in an “asymetrical stress”, which destabilised the left side of the full-sized and mobile goalpost, he said.

Hambali’s struggle to free his feet from the net added to the stress, causing the sides of the goalpost to unfold and fall on the boy.

The Coroner’s Court also found that PE teachers would periodically remind students not to grab onto the crossbars during safety briefings, which would typically be conducted during the first few lessons.

The court found that the collapsed goalpost was bought between late 2013 and 2014, and had a back bar, which could reinforce its stability. The back bar, however, had corroded months or even a year before the incident. After the back bars had come off, students could transport the goalpost by tilting it till it was flat and carrying it at the waist level.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) issued safety guidelines on the use of goalposts in schools following the accident. Schools are now required to attach warning signs to crossbars 1.8m high and above. Schools have also been banned from using foldable goal posts and existing ones need to be disposed. MOE also required all its schools’ goalposts to be anchored to the ground.

“There is always a need to anticipate the possibility that students will use or misuse equipment in an unexpected, unorthodox or otherwise unsafe manner, and expose themselves to injury,” said SC Bay. The school has since disposed of a second similarly-constructed goalpost after the incident.

Hambali’s parents and four other family members were present at the hearing. Speaking to reporters after the Coroner’s Inquiry, Hambali’s sister, Suria artiste Sarah Aqi Lah, 33, said that the family still had a number of questions that were unanswered by the school and MOE, such as why the goalpost was at the field when it wasn’t being used.

When asked whether the family would take civil action against the school, Sarah said they were still considering it and were currently seeking legal advice.

“We have a lot more questions to ask, especially the school, on safety measures they overlooked…it’s not about the money, but (the thought) that he could have not died,” she said.

The principal only met the family once after the funeral to hand over $9,000 in donations from the school, and that no one from MOE has approached the family, Sarah said.