Bloomberg — Mired in violence, hunger and political chaos, Haiti has little to cheer about. Its women’s national soccer team is changing that.
Despite having no corporate or government sponsors and being unable to play on home turf due to security concerns, Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, beat powerhouses like Chile and Mexico to secure a spot for the first time ever at this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
“It means a lot to me to be able to make history,” said Milan Pierre-Jerome, a Haitian defender who also plays soccer for George Mason University while studying for a degree in sports management and sports communication. “Putting Haiti out there in this positive light is something I really appreciate.”
The elation on the soccer pitch has been in sharp contrast to daily life in Haiti, which is locked in one of its most profound crises in decades two years after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Heavily armed gangs have seized large swathes of the nation, and murder and kidnappings are commonplace. Nearly half the population is going hungry.
Its women’s national soccer team has had to play against the backdrop of those troubles. The chaos means that the team haven’t been able to play in Haiti in more than three years, with “home games,” including those that led to their qualification for the World Cup, held in neighboring Dominican Republic due to security concerns. The entire squad is now living and working abroad, largely in the US and Europe.
“To see a poor country like this be among the 32 best nations in the world in football is more than great,” said Richard Adrien, who managed the team from 2015 to 2020 and is still involved in club soccer in Haiti. “It has been a struggle for them to get to this level, but they are so gifted technically that it’s amazing.”
When the World Cup trophy was taken on its mandatory tour through Haiti in April, goalkeeper Kerly Theus was the only member on the team who attended the event. Also absent were the parades, parties and jubilant rallies that usually follow soccer’s most coveted prize.
Theus, who also plays for FC Miami City in Florida, said that her mother tried to convince her not to travel to Haiti due to the rampant crime.
“I decided to go to give people there some type of support and pride,” she said. “I want the world to know that Haiti is not all negative. We have a lot of talent on the island, and I wanted to bring hope to the little girls and let them know it won’t be like this forever.”
The Haiti Football Federation declined repeated interview requests but confirmed that the team has no private financial support.
“The Haitian state and the private sector can always come forward,” the federation wrote in a text, “but we have nothing at the moment.”
The team’s travel and lodging needs will be met by FIFA. The 32 teams at the tournament will split $30.7 million, about $960,000 per team, to cover traveling costs and other pre-tournament preparations for a 45-member delegation. FIFA provided the same amount — and imposed the same conditions — for the men’s World Cup in Qatar in 2022, the organization said in an email.
However, Pierre-Jerome said the lack of corporate sponsorship wasn’t on her mind.
“All we need is a ball, cleats and shin guards,” she said. “All those outside things don’t really matter.”
The team’s first test will come July 22, when Haiti, ranked number 53 in the world, faces fourth-ranked England in the group stage. They’ll also play Denmark and China. While the odds are tough, they’re not insurmountable, Theus said.
“If we stay positive and play together, we will make history,” said the goalkeeper. “I think we can shock the world.”
Read more on Bloomberg.com