Haiti at the Women’s World Cup: A story of horror, hardship… and hope

When the prize for the Women’s World Cup arrived in Haiti earlier this year, only a limited number of people on the Caribbean island actually saw it.

The trophy was quietly exhibited in a small ceremony, being transported in and out of the country under strict security measures. FIFA decided against organizing a public parade or a large-scale event in Haiti, as it was considered too risky. The tour faced a challenge in Haiti, which is situated on an island approximately 600 miles southeast of Miami, the U.S. City from where the trophy was intended to travel to all 32 nations that had successfully qualified for the tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021, the country has experienced a high frequency of killings and kidnappings, with many parts of the country being under the control of armed groups. This has made life in the country extremely dangerous and difficult, especially when it comes to traveling on the roadways and in the city of Port au Prince.

Several players of his team are part of the large global Haitian diaspora, which has faced economic difficulties and political turmoil for decades. Nicolas Delepine, who took on the job as the team’s manager in 2021, is the only person who has ever visited Haiti. Due to security concerns, the national Haitian team has been training in the neighboring Dominican Republic for the past two years. The only player from the team to visit Haiti was Kerly Theus, who professionally plays for Miami FC. He came to present the team’s trophy.

As per the Disasters Emergency Committee, approximately 220,000 individuals lost their lives and 3.5 million were directly impacted when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc on Haiti in 2010. The majority of its athletes, who were raised in Haiti, were youngsters during that period. The Haitian team symbolizes a significant portion of what it signifies to be Haitian in the present day, capturing the intricacies and paradoxes of the nation’s past.

The parents and grandparents of the individuals, who were born and raised in the United States and Canada, represent the country of their choice. They are also joined by others. The country has experienced paralyzing violence, political collapse, and years of hardship. In addition to this, the country was already facing extreme poverty and struggling to find its place in the world of humanitarian aid. The disaster further exacerbated the challenges, creating a world of humanitarian aid in a place already burdened by extreme poverty. The United Nations deployed a military mission in the country. The members of Haiti’s Women’s World Cup squad have grown up in a time heavily influenced by the consequences of that disaster.

The upcoming World Cup semi-final between Haiti and France could potentially be an unprecedented post-colonial showdown, surpassing any previous derby. This summer’s tournament presents a small opportunity for Morocco to offer a game that could even outshine the ultimate showdown. Additionally, several key players from Dumornay Melchie, including the star player, have started their successful professional careers in France, where the team’s manager also hails from.

Activists have called for acknowledgment and compensation, but this historical aspect has remained unrecognized in France for a significant period. Starting from 1825, France imposed a crippling financial reparation in exchange for political acceptance, which has severely hindered the economy of the country ever since. The enslaved population initiated a massive revolution in 1791, ultimately leading to independence in 1804. This revolution dismantled the system established by the European nation during their colonization of this Caribbean region in the 17th century, which was primarily based on plantation slavery. France’s influence is deeply ingrained in Haiti as it has strong historical ties to the nation.

Haiti’s history is a complex and lengthy one, marked by a profound threat to the ruling powers of the day. The victory against slavery served as the basis for external pressures, while internal conflicts over the meaning of freedom and the structure of the government continued. This ongoing set of conflicts led to a war for liberty, characterized by scorched-earth tactics, and the brutal layering of colonial exploitation. Throughout the country’s history, there have been struggles with poverty and political challenges.

Haiti endured a two-decade period of occupation by the United States from 1915 to 1934 in the 20th century, which played a role in establishing a U.S.-Backed dictatorship in the country under François and Jean-Claude Duvalier for almost 30 years, resulting in a significant exodus from Haiti. The United States has consistently implemented harsh and restrictive measures towards Haitian individuals attempting to enter its borders, being at the forefront of employing the strategy of intercepting migrants at sea in the 1980s and detaining them in Guantanamo Bay before repatriating them to Haiti.

This is why it is crucial to explain why supporting their national teams in the Haitian way is so important, as it brings together the power and joy of gathering. Many Haitians feel a deep sense of pride in their unique history and are also keenly aware of the ways their country has been discriminated against and stigmatized for centuries. They were pioneers in the struggle against slavery for racial equality, which is why supporting their team is even more vital.

Francois, whose father, Jean-Claude Duvalier, inherited the role of life-for-president, travelled to Germany for the tournament and qualified against the odds with the men’s legendary team led by Manno Sanon. That was a very difficult time for the country under the repressive dictatorship, making their appearance in the 1974 World Cup a unique achievement for the nation.

In Haiti, everyone in the group stage was eliminated, but the team lost the game 3-1 and scored a beautiful goal. Sanon made a stunning run for the goal and broke free early in the game with a series of quick passes. However, the defense of the opponent, famous for their nearly impenetrable ‘door bolt’ (literally catenaccio), proved to be a formidable challenge for Haiti in their first game.

A mural in Prince-au-Port, once destroyed in the 2010 earthquake, celebrates Sanon alongside Jacques-Jean Dessalines, the founder of Haiti, placing him in the pantheon of national heroes of the Caribbean, alongside Cuban leaders Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, as the women’s players of Haiti’s generation have already made history with their qualification into the tournament, leaving their mark on the country’s imagination.

In 1919, the renowned Charlemagne Peralte orchestrated a rebellion against the American presence in Haiti, in a region well-known for its history of resistance where Toussaint Louverture and other abolitionist fighters were once stationed. She was born in 2003 in Mirebalais, a town located in the mountainous Central Plateau of Haiti. The standout player of this Haitian team is Dumornay, a 19-year-old who was recently recognized as the top young female player globally by Goal magazine.

Trained in the complex located in Croix-des-Bouquets, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, there are approximately 500 young boys and girls. The academy is supported by FIFA and other organizations at present. The Haitian Football Federation’s headquarters in the country had been demolished by the earthquake, resulting in the loss of numerous coaches and players. The Camp Nou, which was established in 2012, was inaugurated with the help of donations received afterwards. This complex was once the residence of the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Dumornay, who was recruited at the age of 10, grew up playing soccer in the streets of the town and developed his skills at Haiti’s national football youth academy.

Dumornay, along with a more extensive ensemble of energetic athletes, journeyed to France in 2018 upon successfully securing a spot in the U20 World Cup. Additionally, they were chosen to represent Haiti’s national women’s U20 team and were recruited to join AS Tigresses, which is regarded as one of the top women’s professional teams in the country, during their teenage years. Dumornay displayed commendable performance.

In the upcoming season, she will join Lyon after securing a contract with them, having been highly coveted by major European teams such as Chelsea and Manchester City. Her current contract is set to expire this year. Initially playing for Reims in the French Ligue 1, she joined the team in late 2021 as soon as she reached the eligible age. A player who effortlessly outshone everyone in the midfield caught the attention of scouts from the Stade de Reims women’s team, who were watching from the stands. She excelled when facing the formidable Germany team.

The presence of Caribbean and Haitian women in the World Women’s Cup is a historic moment. The women’s team is now known as the Grenadieres and they have been nicknamed the Grenadiers after the celebrated army unit in Haitian history. Dumornay played a central role in Haiti’s qualification for this year’s World Cup, scoring two goals in their stunning victory against Chile in the final qualifying match in May.

The recent decision to reverse FIFA’s removal of Bart Jean-Yves from the soccer academy at Nou Camp has led to accusations of rape and sexual harassment in the Haitian Football Federation. These unresolved legal cases have upended the country and created a painful backdrop against which the political situation is set. However, it is also important to note that this tournament marks the culmination of decades of work in supporting women’s soccer in Haiti.

The annual tournament was established in the late 1980s, but was interrupted by several years of violent political struggle. In 1986, the overthrow of Duvalier was followed by a period of political turmoil in the 1980s. The next year, Tigresses AS was founded, and the following year, Amazones was founded, making them the first professional women’s soccer teams in Haiti. Soon after, Bart, a medical student and journalist, founded his own team called the Amazones. The team frequently played informal soccer matches, often between two high schools. The first officially recorded women’s soccer game in Haiti was played in December 1971. The story of Jean-Bart has been intertwined with the decades-long history of women’s football in Haiti.

The national main newspaper of Haiti, Le Nouvelliste, has carefully covered the rise of Scandal Jean-Bart over the years, which has also led to coverage of the scandal. While the international press has not paid much attention to the team, most of the headlines were made after a game between the USWNT and Haiti in 2010, where the USWNT players showed solidarity with a gesture. The national team has been slowly building its strength and continued to play in the wake of the local professional teams after the 2010 earthquake.

Jean-Bart, who had been the leader of the Haitian Football Federation since 2000 and had recently been reelected without opposition for another four-year period, was alleged in an article published in The Guardian newspaper in England (with multiple former players and their families speaking anonymously) to have committed sexual misconduct against players at the Camp Nou facility. The accusations first surfaced in 2020.

FIFA’s decision, which included minors, stated that Jean-Bart, who has consistently denied the accusations, had been involved in a systematic mistreatment of multiple female players. In November 2020, FIFA permanently banned Jean-Bart from all football-related activities and imposed a fine of 1 million Swiss francs (£880,000; $1.1m). The New York Times stated in May 2020 that their handling of the case had been “inconsistent, and at times concerning for those involved”. However, following the initiation of an investigation, Haitian organizations called for action from the Haitian government and FIFA.

The reporter who had submitted the original piece in The Guardian, Romain Molina, emerged victorious in a defamation lawsuit in a French court against Jean-Bart in June. In his capacity as the leader of the Haitian Football Federation, Jean-Bart announced his intention to reclaim his position shortly after the ruling was reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in response to his appeal.

The debates about Jean-Bart’s future role in Haitian football raise broader issues, as these investigations remain live and unresolved. It highlights deep problems in handling sexual harassment and violence, arguing with both the FIFPRO global football players’ union. The decision of the CAS has strongly condemned the investigation, which contributed to the Watch Human Rights.

The spokesperson for Jean-Bart, located at Nou Camp in Bouquets-des-Croix, noted that the 75-year-old had already prevailed in separate cases in multiple courts around the world. He looks forward to testifying openly and reminding the entire world of his complete innocence against these baseless charges. The Guardian reported that campaigners in Haiti have won the right to appeal against the dismissal of the case brought against Jean-Bart in November 2020.

The recent decision in the Haitian court, declaring Bart-Jean innocent and stating that the case has been re-opened, is false. The ongoing legal process is following its usual course, and there is no truth to the claim made by Bart-Jean that the case has been re-opened. The decision is being appealed, as is standard procedure in the legal process.

Nierman stated, “His lack of guilt has been confirmed repeatedly in esteemed courts of law, a stance consistently upheld by the President. He aspires to succeed in the Court of Arbitration for Sport and reclaim his role with backing from 20 Haitian football clubs. However, due to being unjustly targeted in a defamatory scheme by his adversaries, who were lawfully elected, FIFA is obstructing the President’s reinstatement. This is unfortunate.”

The women’s team from the Dominican Republic was working and trying to prepare for the World Cup, which was unfolding. Although they were unable to compete in New Zealand and Australia, as ruled by FIFA, they also had other issues to deal with, such as having several players born outside the country.

Amandine Pierre-Louis and Gabrielle Marie Emilien, the two athletes, were unable to attend the World Cup because FIFA has set a strict deadline for acquiring Haitian citizenship. Pierre-Louis, who had previously represented Canada’s U17 and U20 teams, recently made the decision to represent Haiti. Both Pierre-Louis and Emilien were born in Canada to parents of Haitian descent.

In New Jersey, at the parking lot of the Red Bull Arena, supporters burst into hours of lively, collective celebration as Haiti triumphed over Costa Rica that particular year in the Gold Cup. Performing the traditional Haitian carnival music rara, chanting anthems of triumph and admiration for their team, with such elation that numerous Costa Rica supporters couldn’t resist joining in, I was fortunate enough to witness it. Their triumphs were commemorated by supporters in Haiti and the diaspora in 2019, but in this year’s Gold Cup, the men’s team had a disappointing performance. Haiti’s opportunities on football’s global stage are infrequent and rare.

Celebrants paraded in Port-au-Prince, where fans always gather to watch their two adopted national teams, as well as in Haiti, as the defeat of Brazil by Belgium in the 2018 World Cup helped trigger mass protests in the country when the government inadvisably decided to announce an increase in gas prices during the game, assuming that everyone would be distracted and Brazil would win.

Observing will be Haitian supporters in the nation and across the world, but it is uncertain if this year’s Haiti matches will attract individuals to gather in public in a similar manner, particularly considering the security conditions in the nation. When Argentina emerged victorious in the 2022 World Cup, there were extensive public festivities throughout the country.

There is a precedent in the country for football to create a little peace and a moment of reprieve in the midst of conflict.

The game tickets were swapped for weapons brought in by the individuals as part of a strategy agreed upon by officials and the Brazilian athletes to help decrease violence in the nation. They were welcomed by enormous, tranquil crowds as the visiting athletes paraded through the town, although they were accompanied and traveled in the armored vehicles of the UN peacekeeping mission. Considering the immense devotion Haitians have for the Brazilian squad, the friendly game between the two countries was almost like a match between two local teams. In a backdrop of political unrest in the nation, a team of renowned Brazilian national athletes journeyed to Haiti just months after president Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been ousted from power in 2004.

In Brisbane, as Haiti’s team takes to the pitch for their opening game against England, what can the Haitians anticipate? Drawing inspiration from Didier Drogba’s use of a football triumph to advocate for peace in Ivory Coast back in 2005, there is a possibility that Haiti’s team might similarly make a statement, regardless of the outcome of the match.

Group D in Denmark and China are set to continue their journey on July 22nd when they play against England. They will face serious challenges on the field, but if the women’s team from Haiti wants to achieve success in the tournament, they will need to be able to fulfill a certain role.

There is always a chance that the beauty of football exists. This generation of Haitian women’s players, who have already shown that they are not interested in letting obstacles stand in their way, know their country and know the possibility and determination that comes with it. They dream of the unexpected and are determined to make it a reality.