Yves Jean-Bart, the president of the Haitian Soccer Federation for the last nine years was in Boston recently and spoke with the Haitian Times editor, Garry Pierre-Pierre regarding the state of the Haitian Soccer and the federation’s future as the team prepares for the Gold Cup tournament in July of this year
HT: The Haitian National Team is participating in the Gold Cup soon, Is the team ready to compete at that high level?
YJB: Since the beginning of the year we have been working really hard with our coaches to bring the team to its best in order to compete in the Gold Cup. The first cycle of our practice games took place between March 16th and April 5th. Our second cycle of exhibitions games started on April 11th and will end on May 5. Finally, we will have a 3rd cycle of practice games between May 11 to May 31.
Our first game for the Gold Cup is scheduled on July 4. While we are preparing for this game, we are staying in constant contact with about 15 of our players who currently play overseas to follow their preparations for this competition. We are trying to have one or two games against the Dominican Republic possibly on May 12 and 14 in Haiti.
We are also playing a game against Jamaica on May 23 in Fort Lauderdale. We are working actively to host a friendly game with Panama in Port au Prince either on June 13 or June 14.
We are working really hard to play as many practice game as possible to get the National team up to par. Financially, only Digicel is financing our team’s preparation for the Gold Cup. Therefore as of right now, the Gold Cup is the main preoccupation of the Federation.
HT: What is your short term and long-term goal for the team?
YJB: We have a team that is really young: besides Bruni and maybe Gille, our players are younger than 25. We have a long road ahead of us, this is why one of our main objective, is to work really hard with the players living in Haiti. We want to increase the time we spend training but also have them play more games against teams from other countries so they can be at their best for the 2011 and 2013 Gold Cup and the World Cup in 2014.
HT: What is your budget? And can you compare that with let’s say, Trinidad and Tobago or any country in the Caribbean?
YJB: It is really difficult for me to come up with a specific monthly or even yearly budget. For the different selections, Digicel gives us $10,000 every month but unfortunately, it is not sufficient to cover all our expenses: salaries of the coaches and technical staff, airlines tickets when we have to travel, fees to cover our training sessions whether it is in Haiti or overseas. These expenses are just a few. Sometimes, we do get funding from the government but it is not constant and not a fixed amount. Which is why, we can’t plan ahead. It is a day to day struggle.
It is really difficult for us to get our players that play abroad to come to training or play certain games. We need so much more funding. For example, let’s take a country like Honduras, a country as poor as Haiti, but it has a budget of $7 million every year for its National Soccer Federation. In addition, Honduras has seven main sponsors that finance the National Team. Another example is Trinidad, which receives $18 million every year or even Mexico which has $100 million available to them. Please keep in mind, although we have an insignificant budget compared to some of teams named above, we still have to compete with these teams, It takes a lot (talent, money, structure, just to name a few) to get a team prepared to compete at the international level.
HT: Is the government taking soccer seriously? In terms of money it spent?
YJB: The Haitian government has never taken soccer seriously. In some instances, they have but for political publicity. For example, in 1930 with Seymour Pradel, in 1953 with General Paul Eugene Magloire, in the 70’s with the Duvaliers, in 2003 with Jean Bertrand Aristide and in 2006-2007 with Rene Preval.
But there has never been any long term, consistent financial commitment made.
To prove my point, there has not been any stadium built in the country for over 30 years. We do not have any doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists for any of the national teams.
The clubs of the Haitian Soccer League do not receive any funding. In addition, the government does not allocate a budget for the youth, there are no schools that can help develop the many talents of our Youth. We do not have a training camp for our national teams. There are no laws that can protect the rights of the clubs in the Haitian Soccer League.
HT: What kind of support have you gotten from the private sector?
We have not really gotten anything from them, except for our main sponsor, Digicel which has been supporting us tremendously for the past three years. The major local enterprises want to maintain a certain monopoly and keep the status quo and do not see the need of investing in order to promote what the country has.
But, when you take a company like Digicel: in only one year by investing in soccer, they have become the #1 enterprise in Haiti and they are causing a shift in the market.
Keep in mind, soccer in Haiti is seen as a sport of the “masses”. It is fair to say that many of these companies are dealing with significant issues (insecurity, inflation etc). It takes a lot of money to keep them afloat. If they do have money left, they would rather save it instead of investing it. There are no laws in place to encourage companies to make contributions. For example, if funds donated towards the Haitian Soccer Federation or any soccer related activities were tax-deductible; more companies will be more inclined to donate funds. Soccer is one the few social activities that still remain in our country. We are always trying to convince these major enterprises that they can use soccer as a promotional tool, but it is a constant battle. In Haiti right now, we do not charge for TV rights therefore losing our chances to generate revenues from advertisements.
HT: What’s been your biggest challenge?
YJB: Becoming the 50th team in the FIFA rankings, placing at least 5 or 6 players in well knows clubs in Europe.
Securing contracts for our players in clubs outside of Haiti is crucial for the advancement of soccer in our country. It will encourage hundreds of players to be involved in soccer but most importantly, they will take this sport more seriously.
This will make it easier for us to attract investors, to convince the government that soccer should be taken seriously.
HT: When will we see a return to the glory years of the 1970’s when Haiti participated in the 1974 World Cup in Germany?
YJB: In the 1970’s we were lucky to have had a group of extremely talented players with two superstars among them. In addition, the government was willing to invest millions for all these players to be prepared. The rest was just good management, which allowed us to play most of the qualification games close to Haiti, which created exceptional results. What happened after 1974 (players sent to exile, players that ran away) proved that it was not the way to go about it because no long term investments were made and as result, we became further behind.
We are currently paying all the consequences of these choices; we have to push forward soccer in general not only the national team. We have to build fields, create faculties for sports, and build stadiums, fund the clubs in order for us to have a stable take off.
1974 will always remain the proof that Haitians have a lot of talent and can go really far. But the way we went about things in order to get to 1974 should never be repeated because 30 years later we are still paying the consequences. Making a national team win is not hard, you just have to invest a lot of money just like Haiti did in 1974, Jamaica in 1998 or even Trinidad in 2006 but developing soccer for the long run is a whole different story. After 1974, we should have used our success to launch soccer nationwide. But politics destroyed everything when all the actors of our 1974 team were pointed out people such as Jean Vorbe, Claude Raymond, Antoine Tassy and all the other players that have been totally forgotten.
HT: Many of us are not familiar with the names of the team? Who are some of your biggest stars?
YJB: I can name: Frantz Bertin who is a central defender who trained in Paris and at the Juventus Athletic club of Madrid, he is presently playing in Greece and is the captain of his team.
There is Jean Jacques Pierre who is former player of “Cavaly de Leogane” and who has excelled in Uruguay than France but has decided to no longer play for us.
We can name also Lesly Fellinga who plays in Hereveen in Holland (a young Haitian who grew up in Holland).
There is also Abel Thermeus who was formed in Monaco who is a center forward.
HT: 21. How is the Haitian league coming along? Are you getting quality players from it?
YJB: Absolutely, even though the conditions of the game have worsened misery, poverty of the country, lack of good soccer fields, bad roads in the country do make things harder for the clubs. But every season, new talents are discovered and old ones are displayed.
What we want to accomplish is to increase the amount of competitions amongst the youth. We have created more training for the youth so that everyday we come out with more experienced and talented players. We have been present in the last nine years at the International scene in all the youth championships: CONCACAF, World Cup, in the Caribbean. Our young teams have been traveling around the world.
Many of our players are being contacted by many universities for scholarships. Many international leagues are also contacting us, showing interest in these players. As a result, the players are more focus, more dedicated, more interested in playing because they see there are countless possibilities out of Haiti for them. They see “the game” as a passion but also as a profession.
But, the road is long ahead of us and there is more work to be done. In order for Haitian soccer to succeed at the national and international levels, many social, economic factors would need to drastically change in Haiti as well: there needs to be less misery in the country, people need to go to school, learn other languages, eat to satisfaction, get up to speed with the many technological advancements in order to be able to compete with other countries because everyone is doing the same thing. Talent and will are no longer enough. Resources are needed, development is needed, education is needed. Everything that can help fight against poverty is needed.
HT: Are most of the players in the Team, playing in Haiti or overseas?
YJB: Yes, more of our players are starting to play overseas. This means that the various trips we have done with our younger teams were productive because our players are noticed by recruiters. Even though they are going to clubs that are not well-known but it is still exposure at the international level. All we hope is these players prove themselves so that they will open the door for the other players still living in Haiti. It is the only way for our clubs to gain financial stability (from the money generated from signing players with international teams) and continue with the formation of their young players and consistently rediscovering new talents.
Currently, the clubs in Haiti are not yet getting any financial reward because have not yet proven themselves or make a name for themselves at the International level. A lot of third world countries are following this strategy and it will be extremely beneficial in the long run. Keep in mind, back in 1999, we only had Bruni playing in playing in Trinidad, right now there are approximately 20 players playing outside of Haiti, have a better life for themselves and their family, all this due to soccer. Ultimately, we want to push these players by becoming better athletes that can compete at any international level (via training sessions but also games).