Almost 180 days have passed since Yves Jean-Bart was provisionally suspended by Fifa pending an investigation into claims the president of the Haiti Football Federation sexually abused young female footballers at the country’s national training centre.
Known as “Dadou”, Jean-Bart was re-elected unopposed for a sixth term in January despite Fifa’s statutes which recommend federation presidents serve a maximum of three terms. Guardian stories over several months detailed allegations of abuse of women and girls and a climate of fear around the most powerful figure in football in Haiti, claims he had persistently and vehemently denied.
Just as he had done when the Guardian’s first story, detailing allegations that he coerced several players at the Centre Technique National in Croix-des-Bouquets into having sex over the past five years, was published in April, the 73-year-old protested his innocence and described them as “clearly a manoeuvre to destabilise the FHF, the character of the president and his family”.
“These false accusations are as criminal as the practice of child sexual abuse,” the statement added. “The design of the detractors aims to grab the FHF without going through the election process. Let them say it loud and clear!”
In August he was suspended for a further 90 days, with Fifa’s ultimate decision still unclear. But on Friday, with little more than 24 hours due until that suspension term was up, Fifa’s ethics committee finally released its decision. Jean-Bart has banned for life from all football-related activities and been found guilty of having abused his position and sexually harassed and abused various female players, including minors. He has been fined 1m Swiss francs (£827,000).
Allegations of abuse have now been validated after an exhaustive investigation in Haiti and Europe.
The man who has controlled the sport on the Caribbean island since he was first elected in 2000 has already announced his intention to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) in Switzerland, with a statement from his spokesman describing the decision as a “travesty of justice and purely political move”. On Thursday, perhaps in an attempt to pre-empt the decision from world football’s governing body, the Haitian justice system had cleared Jean-Bart – a former doctor and then journalist who helped establish AS Tigresses, one of Haiti’s first women’s teams, in the 1970s – of any wrongdoing, with a statement from his spokesman claiming that “not one alleged victim came forward publicly nor was the judicial system able to find potential victims after contacting numerous organisations that have claimed to be helping them”.
In a country that is consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world by Transparency International and where up to one in three women aged 15 to 49 have experienced gender-based violence, it was perhaps unlikely that he would be brought to justice in his homeland.
But a high-profile demonstration outside the courthouse when Jean-Bart was summoned by local prosecutors in May which was organised by local human rights organisations Kay Fanm, Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (Sofa), Kri Fanm Ayiti (Krifa) and Cabinet de Litige Stratégique des Droits Humains (Calsdh) and promoted the Creole slogan, #PaFeSilans, (“Do not be silent”) ensured the story received widespread attention.
Fifa did not suspend Jean-Bart immediately after the Guardian’s first story. But after we reported that several alleged victims of sexual abuse by Jean-Bart had received death threats since claims against him were made, and Human Rights Watch intervened to urge Fifa to suspend the president immediately, they took action. “A gangster called us,” one victim said. “If we talk, they know where our uncles, aunts, cousins are.”
Since then, several more victims and witnesses have come forward to give evidence to the ethics committee, with one even having moved out of Haiti because of fears regarding their safety. In August, Antoine Doret, who spent 12 years working as technical director of the centre before leaving in 2014 and also testified to Fifa, became the first person to go on the record when he alleged that he had witnessed Jean-Bart sexually abusing of young female players under the age of 18. “Dadou takes advantage of their poverty,” he said. “The girls and families are so poor. Football is sometimes their only way to get something in their life.”
Doret also named an employee at the centre who is alleged to have helped facilitate Jean-Bart’s abuse as Nella Joseph. She has also been provisionally banned by Fifa but, in common with allegations against the technical director, Wilner Etienne, proceedings are pending.
Despite his ban, an article by German website DW Sports in October alleged that Jean-Bart was still involved in running the federation and that he was continuing to groom young female players at the national training centre. Their reports relied on leaked voice messages and conversations with FHF officials.
“He came and held a sort of meeting with the young players,” said an unnamed official. “The few employees who were there are close to him. They opened the gate to let Dadou return several times. He even brought food to the girls once. He was in their dormitory in the middle of the night.”
That claim was dismissed by Jean-Bart’s spokesman as a “defamatory lie”.
With Jean-Bart now banned pending his appeal to Cas, Joseph Varieno Saint-Fleur, one of the federation’s vice presidents, remains in temporary charge but Fifa is expected to introduce a normalisation committee. Monique André – the only female member of the federation’s executive committee, is expected to be a contender to replace him. But after two decades that have been characterised by deceit and scandal, at least there is now some hope for a brighter future for Haiti’s young female footballers.