PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy got a whirlwind visit to Haiti on Saturday, but instead of being feted with a parade like in other countries it was only displayed during a small ceremony because of the country’s unrelenting violence.
Meant to inspire future female soccer talent, the trophy was surrounded by Haitian authorities, mostly men and a handful of women, including the goalkeeper of the national soccer team and the president of the women’s soccer federation, Monique André.
The trophy has special significance in Haiti now because its women’s team qualified in February for the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals for the first time in the country’s history.
The team won its historic match a week after a court overturned a lifetime ban against former Haitian soccer federation president Yves Jean-Bart over allegations that he sexually abused female players, including minors. FIFA has appealed the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Goalkeeper Kerly Théus, who plays for FC Miami, was the only member of the national team at the ceremony. “I have no words to express how happy I am. It is a big thing that we achieved and we plan to move forward,” she said.
The trophy and an accompanying delegation were escorted by police through a back gate of Haiti’s international airport to a nearby hotel for its presentation. It was a necessary safety measure in a city where over 60% of its areas are dominated by violent gangs, according to police.
The 19-inch (47-centimeter) trophy is one that Milan Pierre-Jerome, a member of Haiti’s women’s soccer team, wants to win. She was born in Florida and is a student at George Mason University in Virginia. Her grandfather was Haitian, and her father played for Haiti’s soccer team.
“My dad was a pro, so ever since I was out of the womb, it was like, ‘You gotta play soccer,’” she said with a laugh during a recent phone interview with The Associated Press.
She was 14 when she first flew to Haiti for a two-week trial. A month later, she got called back and participated in her first Haitian tournament at 15.
Pierre-Jerome recalled the day the national team won its way into the World Cup tournament with a 2-1 victory over Chile in February: “It was so emotional. I just remember crying, crying, crying. This isn’t something you can do every day, qualifying for a World Cup.”
She celebrated by calling her father, who was unable to help Haiti qualify for the men’s World Cup in 1994.
“I did this for you!” she recalled telling him. “He apparently ran outside the house and down the street.”
The team’s win sparked jubilation across Haiti at a time when the country is facing gang violence not seen in decades coupled with deepening poverty, widespread starvation and political instability.
So far this year, gangs have killed more than 530 people and kidnapped more than 270 others, with worsening violence forcing at least 160,000 people to flee their homes.
Given the situation, the win in February was a big moment, said Danielle Étienne, a member of Haiti’s soccer team and a student at Fordham University in New York.
“It takes away from all the negative things going on right now,” she said in a recent phone interview. “It kind of brings a little light.”
Étienne was born in the U.S. but her grandfather is from Haiti, and she still has family here.
“That win wasn’t just for the team. It was for the entire country,” she said. “There is value in Haiti despite what might be going on. There’s so much value, so much worth. We’re going to bring the light back on that.”
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