ORLANDO — Five soccer players and the coach of the Haitian delegation for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games went missing from their hotel earlier this week, according to the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office.
In a Facebook June 7 post, police officials said an investigation is underway to find the missing men, who have a range of intellectual disabilities. No foul play is suspected.
Anyone with information about the Haitian athletes is asked to contact police at 321-697-4546.
Officials identified the missing as Joseph Mithon, Nicholson Fontilus, Peter Mianovich Berlus, Anderson Petit-Frere Steevenson Jacquet and Oriol Jean. Their ages range from 18 to 32, and the team is mainly made up of people with disability.
The group had traveled to Orlando to compete in the Special Olympics USA Games. They had been staying in a hotel near the ESPN Wide World of Sports.
While their whereabouts are still unknown as of this writing, it’s largely suspected the group is hiding to avoid returning to crisis-mired Haiti. If proven true, the Special Olympics athletes would be the latest case of Haitian athletes leaving their team and officials duties as representatives of Haiti while abroad, though the number involved is not usually so high. Over the years, several Haitian athletes have defected or attempted to flee while traveling overseas to remain in the host country.
In 2021, three Arcahaie Football Club players fled from the team hotel in Mexico City. Arcahaie had traveled to Mexico to play Mexican side Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League.
In 2015, 13 members of Haiti’s under-17 soccer team also went missing in New York during an overnight stopover at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The team was traveling to South Korea to prepare for the World Cup.
The players were later found — two in Boston.
This latest instance has left many in the Haitian community critical of athletes who defect.
Speaking with The Miami Herald, Haiti’s Special Olympics Board Chair Rachel Pierre-Champagne said, “With these types of events and with the situation that is happening in Haiti, it’s unfortunate that there are people who are going to be selfish and take these opportunities for themselves and not look at the needs of the greater community and the common good for all of us.”