Team 2009; VictorChaps/Flikr
Joy for supporters as national team wins mini-tournament. 24 October, 1997. Nicole Volpe, Reuters
In a time of political and economic failures, Haitians recovered a sense of national pride when their soccer team won the final of a five-game tournament reopening the Haitian soccer stadium. Thousands of Haitians danced in the stands as Haiti trounced Martinique 3-0 in Thursday’s final.
Those who could not afford tickets jumped up and down around radios throughout the capital. Screams of happiness were heard from taxis and supermarkets with every goal.
“This was a break for us, because we have a lot of stress,” said Nertilus Patrick, the left winger who scored the final goal for the Haitian team.
Haiti invited Cameroon, Cuba and Martinique to participate in the inaugural tournament for the stadium, recently renovated after being closed during five years of political turmoil. The team was formed two months ago.
“This is an incredible thing for Haiti, because all the other teams in the tournament have been playing professionally on an international level,” said a local hotel manager where the players were staying. “No one expected us to win.”
Port-au-Prince Mayor Emmanuel “Manno” Charlemagne jumped for joy in the stands after Haiti’s third goal. Spectators celebrated to Haitian “Rara” band Foula, who took the crowd out dancing through the streets all night.
Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, and its fledgling democracy are struggling to overcome years of dictatorship. Its government and economy have been falling apart in recent months. Prime Minister Rosny Smarth left his offices this week along with two ministers, refusing to run a caretaker government any longer.
Even in the euphoria over the soccer match, there were reminders of third world reality. At least three spectators suffered electrical shocks after a goal was scored by Haiti in Monday’s match against Cuba when an excited fan threw a flag in the air, which hit an electric line slung low over the stand. And police assigned to control the crowd liberally distributed tear gas and baton beatings. There were as many chants against the police as for the Haitian team.
“This is Haiti,” spectator Yves Dominique said. “Everything is tough – the police, the crowd, the life. So it makes sense we should have a tough soccer team, too…Next year we’ll show the whole world we don’t play around when we take the World Cup,” he predicted.*
* Haiti Support Group Note: Sadly Haiti did not qualify for the 1998 World Cup finals. After losing in a play-off with Cuba, the Haitian team missed its chance to make it into the CONCACAF qualifying round.