by Ed Aarons, Romain Molina & Alex Cizmic, The Guardian, Jan. 31, 2021
Everyone still calls it “the ranch”. Situated in Croix-des-Bouquets, one of Port-au-Prince’s poorest suburbs and where Wyclef Jean spent his formative years, the Centre Technique National was once a country mansion where Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier hosted his wedding reception in 1980 at a reported cost of $5m.
Having allegedly diverted money from US humanitarian aid to finance the development of the sport that helped Haiti qualify the 1974 World Cup, Duvalier was the first to build a football pitch at the site now known as the Fifa Goal Centre. Nowadays the centre it houses up to 200 young players, most of them the best prospects in Haiti. It was a power base for Yves Jean-Bart, the man who ruled Haitian football for 20 years until, in November 2020, he was banned for life by Fifa following a Guardian investigation detailing allegations of sexual abuse and harassment of young female players.
The 73-year-old has consistently denied the claims, which were first made in the Guardian at the end of April, and said that he intends to appeal against Fifa’s decision at the court of arbitration for sport. Just one day before the Fifa judgment, Haiti prosecutors said they had cleared Jean-Bart, but under pressure from the US embassy, they are reopening the case. And there is finally some optimism that Jean-Bart’s rule at the centre is over. But still, some shadows are hanging over the ranch.
In February 1972 Jean-Bart was part of a group that formed AS Tigresses, one of Haiti’s first female football clubs. In those days he was a trainee doctor and sports journalist in his mid-20s, already known by his nickname “Dadou”. According to a report in the Haiti Tempo newspaper, Jean-Bart initially used the nickname as a pseudonym as he defied his father’s request that he should leave journalism following a controversial match report which led to his father receiving abuse from disgruntled fans. The Tigresses have gone on to become one of Haiti’s most successful clubs – they won six national titles in a row between 2013 and 2018. The club also has a volleyball team that competes in the national league.
While also working as a doctor – he qualified in 1973 – Jean-Bart became an influential figure in Haiti football thanks to his career as a radio presenter, working for stations Nationale and Métropole among others. He became vice-president of the Fédération Haïtienne De Football (FHF), Haiti’s football association, in 1991, automatically gaining him Fifa membership. He was elected FHF president in 2000 a few weeks after Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, won his second term in office.
“Dadou was always very charismatic and was already friends with everyone,” says Haitian journalist Pierre Richard Midy, now living in exile. “He was very popular on the radio and used to come up with lots of new ideas for the federation when he was vice-president. It was very easy for him to convince ‘the club’ that he was the right person to become the next president so it was no surprise when that happened.”
In April 2002 a ceremony was held to mark the completion of the first phase of the new Fifa Goal Centre in Croix-des-Bouquets, including an administrative office, an auditorium with seating for 300 and a dormitory for up to 32 players in 16 air-conditioned rooms. According to Fifa’s press release at the time Jack Warner, president of Concacaf, the governing body for football in North and Central America, described the centre as “an integral aspect of Fifa president Joseph S. Blatter’s vision, intended to level the international playing field”.
Warner also “assured the gathering that the Goal-financed centre will allow Haiti to recapture some of its past football glories”. The FHF was one of the first national bodies to receive direct funding from the programme, created by Blatter a year after he had succeeded João Havelange as president. It is estimated that the FHF was given around $1.2m towards construction of the centre over the next eight years, although the majority of funding and the donation of the land itself came from the Haitian government.
But while the men’s team failed to qualify for Concacaf’s flagship competition, the Gold Cup, until 2007, Jean-Bart continued to strengthen his position at the helm of the FHF and to develop close relationships with various local club presidents. “Between 2004 and 2008 in his second mandate, everything started,” says Midy. “Most of the clubs were struggling for money so it was easy for him to do favours to help the owners and there was a lot of corruption. In his third mandate, things got even worse – and then there was the earthquake.”
A spokesman for Jean-Bart told us: “It should be obvious that Dr Jean-Bart successfully fulfilled the requirements of his job because the position of federation president required him to maintain close relationships with club presidents, and he did so in full compliance with the appropriate rules and regulations.”
Haiti’s under-17 girls’ team were training at the national stadium in Port-au-Prince when tragedy struck on 12 January 2010. Their coach, Jean-Yves Labaze, who was described as “like a father” to most of the team, was killed by falling rubble as he attended meetings at the FHF’s headquarters nearby, with Jean-Bart later being described as one of only two survivors. “We’ll never know exactly how many [we] lost,” he told journalist Joshua Robinson.
Some, including Midy, cast doubt on Jean-Bart’s claims about the scale of the disaster. But asked about this Jean-Bart’s spokesman said: “When the federation building collapsed, more than 20 people died inside it that day, with the president narrowly escaping and suffering injuries that still affect him today. The Guardian should be ashamed for questioning the humanitarian disaster in Haiti and the devastating impact and trauma of the earthquake on its people and football program.”
An immediate $250,000 grant from world football’s governing body was reported to have been paid to the FHF, with Jean-Bart telling Sports Illustrated that Fifa was intending to set up a $3m fund “which it will manage, to help rebuild the sport’s infrastructure”. Sports Illustrated reported that Warner, the head of Concacaf, “pledged $100,000 of his personal fortune” and that “Chung Mong-joon, a Fifa vice president from South Korea, added $500,000.”
In 2015, having already been arrested in connection with corruption and money laundering charges, Warner was accused by US investigators of diverting $750,000 in emergency funds donated by Fifa and the Korean Football Association that had been intended for victims in Haiti, a charge he denied.
Four years earlier, Caribbean football was caught up in a bribery scandal after Fifa’s ethics committee ruled that each of the 25 Concacaf association chiefs were made or offered cash gifts of $40,000 by Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam to back his bid for the presidency. Fifa issued bans ranging between seven days and two years to 10 Caribbean officials. Jean-Bart was one of a group given a warning, with Warner resigning before the investigation was complete. Jean-Bart replaced him as the acting president of the Caribbean Football Union before Gordon Derrick took over in 2012.
In February 2020 – two weeks after he was re-elected as FHF president for the sixth time, as the only candidate – Jean-Bart received a letter from Gianni Infantino that had been hand-signed “Cher Yves” by the Fifa president. Fifa’s statutes recommend that national federation presidents should serve a maximum of three terms, but Infantino was gushing in his congratulations. A Fifa spokesperson explained later that it recommends to all member associations the introduction of terms limits in line with its statutes “however this is not an obligation”. He added: “It is standard practice to congratulate all duly elected president of member associations.”
Infantino certainly did that. “Your re-election represents a vote of confidence in your abilities on the part of the Haitian football community,” he wrote. “I am convinced that your rich experience, knowledge and personal qualities will have a significant impact on the further development of our sport in your country over the coming years … We look forward to seeing you again soon and congratulating you face to face, I ask you to believe, dear President, dear Yves, in the assurance of my most cordial feelings.”
Gianni Infantino at a press conference at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince in 2017. In February Infantino wrote to congratulate Jean-Bart on his re-election – ‘standard practice’, Fifa said later. Photograph: Dieu Nalio Chery/AP
But as Jean-Bart took the plaudits the Guardian was learning of some allegations that ultimately forced Fifa to drastically recast its attitude to Jean-Bart. They alleged that Jean-Bart been had been abusing young female players and referees at the centre. Over several months the Guardian gathered together harrowing stories from alleged victims. Under condition of anonymity due to fear of violent reprisals, one of the players explained how the ranch’s system of abuse operated. “There is a lady who works there who puts pressure on the girls to have sex with Dadou,” she said. “He will see a nice girl who is attractive and he sends the lady to tell her that she is going to be thrown out of the centre. She starts crying and then the lady says: ‘The only way to resolve this is to speak to Dadou.’ At that moment, the young girl has no choice but to put up with the sexual abuse.”
Others also claimed to have been coerced by Jean-Bart into having sex with him, including one who was forced to have an abortion. “She was put under pressure not to talk,” a former player at the centre said. “Another of our best young players lost her virginity to Dadou when she was 17 in 2018 and also had to abort. These girls who live at the Fifa centre … it’s such a shame because they want to play for the country but if they speak about this situation they will be fired. They are hostages.” Another added: “I’m so afraid. Dadou Jean-Bart is a very dangerous person. There are a lot of people who want to talk but they’re so afraid, especially for the parents who are still in Haiti.”
The Guardian first asked questions about the suspected abuse with Fifa on 27 February and again three days later but received no response. The issue was also raised with the players’ union Fifpro at the start of March, who directed us to Fifa’s senior child safeguarding and protection manager, who did not reply. We tried again on 10 March and this time Fifa did respond, urging us to report any allegations to its confidential whistle-blowing hotline. Having provided more details in several emails over the next fortnight, a source confirmed to us that a member of Fifa’s staff had since raised concerns with the FHF directly.The Guardian’s first story, on 30 April, revealed the abuse allegations. It also detailed the living conditions young players at the ranch had to endure - described as “a nightmare” by a former coach. The money put in by Fifa – an estimated $1m a year since 2010 – apparently had been squandered. The ranch remained in a dilapidated state after years of neglect. “The last time I set foot there, I wanted to vomit,” said another former coach. “It is despicable. Ten kids sleep in every room, there are no sheets, no clean toilets. It’s unimaginable. Where did the money go? The federation received millions, and they didn’t even buy sheets.
A few days later, journalists from Jean-Bart’s former employers, La Nouvelliste, attempted to gain access to the ranch to investigate the allegations but were turned away. “We are in confinement,” explained a security guard with a “12-gauge rifle in his hand”. “Nobody comes out, nobody comes in. I can’t even make it home.”
La Nouvelliste’s article also stated that it had been “difficult” to hear directly from current residents who “are placed in confinement, far from microphones and cameras”. The following day, a demonstration was held at the ranch which featured several young female players holding placards in support of Jean-Bart.
In May 2020 protesters demonstrated outside court hearings into the Jean-Bart allegations. Photograph: Dieu Nalio Chery/AP
“The president treats us like his own children. I don’t think that all that really happened. I don’t believe it,” a 12-year-old female player told the Agence France-Presse agency (AFP). “This is an insult to the nation,” added Jean-Bart. Nonetheless, Jean-Bart was summoned to a meeting with the local district attorney, with protestors gathering outside the courthouse to show their solidarity with the alleged victims and promoting the Creole slogan #PaFeSilans (“Do not be silent”).
On 21 May, the second part of the Guardian’s investigation revealed that several players had received death threats since claims against Jean-Bart had been reported, while another story in the New York Times the next day with the headline “Sexual abuse case in global soccer puts Fifa under scrutiny again” placed the spotlight on world football’s governing body. On 25 May, Jean-Bart was suspended by Fifa, initially for 90 days.
Minky Worden from Human Rights Watch, who provided assistance to some of the players, says the Jean-Bart case bore many similarities to the sexual abuse scandal in Afghanistan, also revealed by the Guardian, that eventually saw former football federation president Keramuddin Karim banned for life. Worden recognised that there was no established process for tackling allegations of this kind when they come from countries with dubious records on human rights. “They all failed to understand what had to be done. And I include Fifa in that,” she says. “Fifa had the same reaction for Afghanistan. The question is why did it take so long to suspend him?”
Asked by German publication DW why it had waited so long to act, a Fifa spokesman said the initial information was “vague” and “insufficient to start an investigation”, adding that due process had to be followed. When the Guardian this month pressed Fifa on whether it regretted how long it took to suspend Jean-Bart, a spokesman said: “The proceeding was not slow, taking especially into account the travel restrictions due to Covid-19, several communication issues with the country, the hostility of the environment and above all the challenges in gathering evidence from victims and witnesses whilst ensuring their safety and care. Investigations into sexual abuse cases are extremely sensitive and must be handled with the greatest care. “For the investigative team in Haiti the top priority has always been – and remains – the protection of victims, and they had for instance to intervene to provide support and protection to individuals that had been threatened.”
Fabienne (not her real name) was one of the first players to allege that she had been sexually abused by Jean-Bart. Once considered to be a star player who had represented Haiti at several youth levels, she remembers being told that her dream of playing professionally overseas “depended on sleeping with the president”.
This allegation appears to underline Haiti journalist Stéphane Jean’s view that Jean-Bart “was too powerful and benefited from the lethal weapon in Haiti, that is to say visas for the US”. When Fabienne was 16 or 17, Jean-Bart “put his hand on my leg to get me to go with him” but she refused. Like many of the players who gave evidence to Fifa, her passport was later taken away and not returned.
“For us it had become normal,” says another player. “In our minds it wasn’t even abuse anymore, it was just something that happened every day. It’s very hard to get out of all of this … Some players, even today, feel that they had a relationship, not that they were abused.”
Jean-Bart would also accompany national teams when they played in tournaments overseas, with another player alleging that he forced an injured teammate from the under-18 squad to share a room with him during a trip to the US. “He had sex with players abroad,” she says. “In France, at the Under-20 World Cup in 2018, he abused one of the players. Everyone had to go out except her. The next time, she begged everyone not to leave her alone.”
Jean-Bart’s spokesperson described this allegation as “total lie”, adding: “nothing improper took place at the event, where the team performed brilliantly. There were 40-plus people in the Haitian delegation, with all players sharing hotel rooms, the president himself sharing his hotel room with another man, and no players in position to be alone at any moment inside or outside the hotel. The Guardian’s printing and amplifying of demonstrably false allegations against Dr Jean-Bart illustrates either a rapacious appetite for reprinting lies or a startling naivete gleefully exploited by his political enemies in Haiti.”
The day before Fifa took the ultimate step and banned Jean-Bart for life, he was cleared in Haiti by magistrate Emilio Accimé. The Haitian judicial authorities have said they are reopening the investigation, a move welcomed by the French embassy in Port-au-Prince. It is understood that officials from both France and the US have been monitoring the case, with the Department of Justice investigating whether any of the former FHF president’s alleged crimes took place on US soil.
Nela Joseph, the girls’ supervisor who allegedly helped facilitate abuse by Jean-Bart at the centre, and FHF technical director Wilner Etienne have been suspended by Fifa and are still awaiting the outcome of the investigation. Formal investigations into Rosnick Grant, a former international referee who is now president of the FHF’s referees’ commission (Cona) and a vice-president of the FHF and long-serving executive secretary Fenelus Guerrier also continue. A “normalisation committee” has been brought in to Haiti by Fifa after concerns Jean-Bart was still involved in “the running of its daily affairs”.
Meanwhile, Jean-Bart has continued to protest his innocence. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Jean-Bart questioned whether Fifa had the moral authority to investigate him having been caught out in “scandal after scandal”. “This is the kind of organisation that pretends to be investigating what’s happening in Haiti,” he said.
Yet while she still remains sceptical that justice will eventually be done in her troubled homeland, Fabienne hopes the end of Jean-Bart’s reign could herald a brighter future. “Playing for Haiti, I gave my heart,” she says. “Without us players, you don’t have a game. I am so happy Dadou can’t abuse his power and stop us from achieving our dreams any more.”
Posted Jan. 31, 2021