‘It’s hell’: legacy of banned Yves Jean-Bart hangs over football in Haiti

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It is more than five months since Yves Jean-Bart was banned from football for life after being found guilty of sexually abusing female players but the legacy of the former president of Haiti’s Football federation has yet to be shaken.

Related: Fifa bans former Haiti team supervisor as part of sexual abuse investigation

At the top, there are stories of chaotic management, and doubts about whether Jean-Bart’s grip has been prised away. Alleged victims of Jean-Bart returned to football training and learning at the residential Centre Technique National in Croix-des-Bouquets in a suburb of Port-au-Prince in March. Once this centre was seen as a flagship for Fifa in Central America; now one leading Fifa official admitted they have returned to “totally unacceptable security and hygienic conditions”.

“It’s hell,” one student who did not want to be named told the Guardian. “We don’t have bedsheets, the toilets aren’t cleaned … Sometimes, they only gave us food one time a day. Our parents and friends had to send us food. I don’t know where the money from Fifa went but I remember that when Fifa paid us a visit, Dadou [Jean-Bart] summoned everyone in order to keep our mouth shut. Suddenly, some cleaners came and gave the impression that it was OK. But it wasn’t. It’s terrible and nothing changed since Dadou was suspended.”

Fifa appointed a “normalisation committee” in January after it had found “strong indications” that Jean-Bart was still exerting influence over the federation. Yet critics say that has yet to make significant progress on its stated aim to restore order to the FHF by helping to appoint a new ruling executive committee, with alleged victims claiming that they have not been given enough protection. “For me, nothing changed – Dadou’s men are still running Haitian football,” said one.

A report by the players’ union Fifpro for Fifa’s ethics committee identified 34 alleged victims of sexual abuse by 10 possible perpetrators at the centre. The report claimed that 14 of the 34 were alleged victims of Jean-Bart himself.

The Guardian understands that the Canadian Michaelle Jean was initially announced as president of the normalisation committee, despite her not having agreed to take up the role. Jacques Letang, president of the Haitian Bar Federation, who has worked for Unicef, was originally listed as a member. But having also been involved in the “ad hoc panel” appointed by Fifa’s ethics committee to investigate the initial allegations against Jean-Bart and several other FHF officials including Rosnick Grant, the head of referees, Letang was installed as chairman at the start of February. Michaelle Jean was instead named as chair of a new advisory panel that would focus on “safeguarding, child protection and the implementation of strategic social projects aimed at safely and permanently developing football in Haiti”.

Since taking up the role, Letang’s leadership has come under the spotlight after number of incidents that have raised questions about the effectiveness of the normalisation committee in helping to rebuild the FHF. Images of the centre – known as the ranch – show the dilapidated facilities that the players returned to after Fifa’s investigation. In an email responding to questions from the Guardian, Letang said that the decision to return to the centre had been taken “in consultation with the members of the committee, the general secretariat and the Fifa authorities”.

In March, Haiti’s men’s Under-23 side’s preparation for the Olympic qualifying tournament made headlines after a 15-0 warm-up victory against a team described in the local press as “Mexique Amateur”, although they turned out to be the Seleccion Mexicana de Aficionados, a fans’ team based in San Diego. The team then travelled to Mexico for the qualifying tournament.

Documents seen by the Guardian show the Normalisation committee used a travel agency based in Florida called Pleasure Travel and Logistics to book their plane tickets. A bill of $51,000 was paid to the agency, which is registered in Florida to Diamy Camacho and Jenny Nuñez. It is understood the agency may also have links to Jean-Bart’s son Yves-Robert. Letang said: “Given the urgency, the administration in place continued to work with the same travel agency. The decision was however taken to proceed in the future on the basis of a provision of services.”

It is understood several Haitian players were also initially denied entry to Mexico after issues with their documentation, with defender Odilon Jerome having to start against Honduras in goal because they did not have enough players after delays processing Covid-19 test results having travelled via the US.

Belize’s team bus was then held up at gunpoint on 23 March as they made their way from the airport to their hotel before their World Cup qualifier in Port-au-Prince, with Fifa forced to send a security expert to assess the situation. “All of us were really traumatised, fearing we didn’t know what would happen,” said the defender Ian Gaynair. The Belize team official Marlon Kuylen said: “We’ve told them in no uncertain terms that we want to get our players out of the country.” Despite their concerns, the match went ahead and Haiti secured a 2-0 victory.

Letang defends the decision to go ahead with the match. “The decision to continue the game against Belize was taken by the delegated match commissioner for the occasion, in consultation with all the players. It is obvious that the FHF is in a complex situation and that this transition period requires investment to start a return to normalisation. The committee will not be able to solve all problems overnight and needs a set-up and diagnostic time.”

Fifpro has questioned the suitability of Letang, saying in a statement it had “received information we believe to be credible that he had on at least one occasion mixed in the same social circle as Mr Jean-Bart. Fifa informed us that it had conducted extensive due diligence on Mr Letang and it remained confident that he has no ties to Mr Jean Bart.”

It is also understood that officials from Concacaf, the governing body in the Caribbean, North America and Central America, raised concerns over the suitability of the normalisation committee and its lack of progress so far.
A Fifa spokesperson told the Guardian that it “is not aware of any such concerns raised by Concacaf and FifPro” and has no plans to replace Letang.

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