In disaster, soccer infrastructure becomes Haitian lifeline

This resilience shines through in the 1974 photograph of Sanon, who died of cancer in 2008, from that year’s World Cup finals. In the picture by Dominique Frank Simon, Sanon evades the prone figure of Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff and appears to run free into endless potential. His goal, giving Haiti a temporary 1–0 lead, showed Haiti’s face to the world. The West’s capacity to look past that face is the problem, not that Haiti lacks extraordinary deeds. We have witnessed well to her dictators, but not to Haiti’s creators.

In a collection of Haitian diaspora writing, edited by Edwidge Danticat, Jean-Pierre Benoît remembers watching the 1974 match at Madison Square Garden. In the day before soccer moms and ESPN, New York Haitians and Italians viewed the game as one expatriate whole. “The poor Haitians have no hope. And yet, Haitians hope even when there is no hope. The tri-syllable cry of ‘HA-I-TI’ fills the air.”

The slave republic that has inspired American fear since Thomas Jefferson resembles the Book of Judges in its history more than Job. That is, exploitative neighbors have a hand in these tragedies, not just God. Living in Haiti means seeing people die. The BBC calls it a “revolving door of pain.”

Even soccer on occasion cues violent opportunists. Authorities since last year have been investigating state police involvement in Aug 05 killings of Lavalas backers at a football match in the capital’s Martissant area. This was a “Play for Peace” game sponsored by the US Agency for International Development, with United Nations peacekeeping forces standing by across the street.

The world’s skewed witness to Haiti and to Haitians goes on and on. Non-Haitian business owners in Miami openly wondered whether an urban soccer park, pursued by the diaspora community for 10 years, would become a crime haven. Following the earthquake, unsubstantianted press accounts of violence in the streets perpetuate the stereotype of a people incapable of self-control. If someone knows what else to call it, I would like to hear. I call it racism.

In contrast, an American mission worker refers to the peace she discovered at a soccer field, where Haitians raised hosannas during aftershocks. “All night long,” says Linda Graham, “people prayed and sang to God.”

In the vast gardens near the pancaked presidential palace, camp residents, aided by shovel-wielding soldiers from Martinique and Guadeloupe, arrange their own garbage collection.

They maintain tidy aisles between tents and improvise space for football.

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3 comments on this post.
  1. Davy:

    Thank you for creating space for Haiti. A truly remarkable and insightful piece on the triangle that is catastrophe, football and hope.

  2. Sports Tip:

    Football lover and sports lover always find the way to play the game. they are motivated. Its a good news that American mission worker refers to the peace she discovered at a soccer field. Thank you John Turnbul.

    Eugenio J. Coutee

  3. Felicity Jones:

    Dave, beautifully said about an amazing piece.

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