Haitian Women’s Football: Sexual Abuse Saga

By Dr. Jason Haynes, Attorney-at-Law and Deputy Dean, Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados, West Indies

Introduction

For young talented individuals who live in impoverished countries, sport remains one of only a handful of viable avenues through which they can demonstrate their athletic prowess while earning a decent livelihood. Sport, therefore, is presumed to provide an escape route out of poverty and disenfranchisement and is often even touted as an accelerator in respect of the maturation of societies.

Its rules, including Codes of Ethics, are meant to protect the integrity of sport, while affording women and girls and other marginalized groups a safe space within which they are able to hone their skills in a meaningful way.

However, recent allegations of sexual abuse in sport, such as the Larry Nassar saga, provide a stark reminder that sport, as a microcosm of society, is not devoid of the social ills that confront the wider society.

This short Post examines three recently decided cases involving the commission of sexual abuse against girls by Haitian football officials. It argues that sport, in some jurisdictions, remains a site of exploitation as opposed to liberation for female athletes.

Contextual Background

In late 2020 and early 2021, the Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee dealt with three cases of sexual abuse involving Haitian football officials, namely Yves Jean-Bart,[1] the former President of the Fédération Haïtienne de Football (FHF), Yvette Félix,[2] the former Assistant Coach and Equipment Manager, and Nella Joseph,[3] the former Supervisor of the U-20 female national football team.

Jean-Bart was alleged to have sexually abused several Haitian female footballers since 2000, while serving as President of the FHF. More pointedly, he was alleged to have raped some of these girls; facilitated abortions in circumstances where these girls became pregnant; promised some of the girls trips abroad and financial rewards as a condition for sleeping with him; retained some of the girls’ passports; retaliated against some of the girls by revoking their status as national footballers and/or preventing them to pursue further studies abroad; and intimidating some of the girls by issuing threats to them and their families.

Meanwhile, Felix was accused of retaining, on the direction of Jean-Bart, passports belonging to eleven of the girls, who had accused Jean-Bart of sexual abuse, while the latter had been serving a provisional suspension. Separately, Joseph was accused of acting as a ‘matchmaker’ by enabling Jean-Bart to sexually abuse the girls at the Centre. More pointedly, through her intermediary role, she persuaded the girls to have sex with Jean-Bart and, when the girls and the aggressor were in a compromising position, she closed all the doors and prevented others from coming in her car. Her conduct even went as far as taking charge over a 15-year-old girl for 30 days after she had had an abortion arising from an unwanted pregnancy, the consequence of Jean-Bart’s sexual misconduct.

Before the Adjudicatory Chamber, the Panel had to address whether the evidence presented by the various victims/witnesses was sufficient to impugn the accused officials for violating Article 23 (protection of physical and mental integrity) and Article 25 (abuse of position) of the FIFA Code of Ethics. Having emphatically found egregious breaches in connection with all three of the accused persons, the Adjudicatory Chamber imposed a lifetime ban and a fine of CHF 1,000,000 on Jean-Bart; a five-year ban coupled with a fine of CHF 10,000 on Felix; and a ban of ten years and a fine of CHF 20,000 on Joseph.

In concluding that Jean-Bart had not only violated the FIFA Code of Ethics, but also elementary principles of basic human decency, by his indiscriminate and cowardly acts which were principally directed at girls from poor backgrounds, the Adjudicatory Chamber noted:

Mr. Jean-Bart’s behaviour is simply inexcusable, a disgrace for any football official. The pain and suffering he has caused his various victims of sexual harassment and abuse cannot even be fully comprehended and represents a very dark stain on the image and reputation of football as a sport loved by so many, whose principal value and credo is “fair play”. While claiming that he was developing Haitian football, in particular women’s competitions and teams, Mr. Jean-Bart did the exact opposite: he abused his position in order to satisfy his personal attitude of domination over the most fragile people, destroying the careers and lives of young promising female players. In addition, no acts of mere negligence are at stake here but deliberate actions.” (Paragraph 181).

Meanwhile, in relation to Felix, the Adjudicatory Chamber considered that she was not merely a ‘passive element’, but ‘an active and trusted agent of Mr. Jean-Bart’ and a ‘full-fledged accomplice’ that allowed him to perpetuate and hide his wrongdoing even after his provisional suspension. (Paragraph 97). In short, she was part and parcel of an ‘autocratic system’ which sustained not only by Jean-Bart’s sexual misconduct, but by his threats and abusive control mechanisms, such as passport retention. (Paragraph 90).

Finally, in respect of Joseph, the Adjudicatory Chamber chided her betrayal of the trust that the girls had reposed in her by convincing them that Jean-Bart’s sexual abuse and harassment was ‘normal’. It also found that she ‘eliminated the girls’ opposition and made them more submissive to the treatment and prevented them from disclosing or reporting the abuse, thus enabling it to continue and produce more casualties.’ (Paragraph 62).

Brief Reflections

The horrific and systemic abuse committed primarily against young, poor female footballers in Haiti by three top Haitian football officials is as shocking as it is malevolent. That, in the 21st century, girls remain unsafe even in the confines of a sport like football, which is governed by a Code of Ethics and various Internal and External Disciplinary Committees, is an important wake up call to all concerned with the administration of sport that patriarchal structures, misogyny, discrimination and sexual violence, fueled by a palpable culture of silence, remain at the heart of sport.

The cases summarised above, while not unique to Haiti, should serve as a stark reminder that the creation of safe spaces, where women and girls, and, indeed, all players can thrive, is far from reality in many jurisdictions.

These cases, as noted above, are, indeed, a very dark stain on the image and reputation of ‘the beautiful game’!

Dr Jason Haynes may be contacted by e-mail at ‘jason.haynes@cavehill.uwi.edu


[1] Decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee (18 November 2020)

[2] Decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee (16 March 2021)

[3] Decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee (23 April 2021)