Haitian Football: An Uneasy Marriage Between Amateurism and Professionalism

This post is also available in: Kreyol

This post is also available in: Kreyòl

Can the Federation be trusted to create a professional atmosphere conducive to success around the national team? Have the professionals become bigger than the Federation and the team itself?

Haitians’ relationship with their national football team, the famed Grenadiers, often seems to hinge on the extremes. We tend to give in to euphoria after a victory or descend into cynicism after a defeat. The popular adage, “Don’t get too high, don’t get too low”, doesn’t seem to apply to us. Part of this extreme behavior can be attributed to the fact that we are a nation of very savvy football fans. The team’s elimination from the FIFA World Cup 2014 at the hands of Antigua in November 2011 was one of the lowest points for most Haitian football fans. We could not fathom losing to a country of traditional cricket lovers with a population amounting to a third of Pétion-Ville’s.

In the summer of 2013, a couple of unexpected and encouraging results against traditional superpowers like Spain and Italy rekindled football fans’ interest in the national team. In the wake of such promising games, the enthusiasm for the Grenadiers skyrocketed. Haitian fans went from utter pessimism to high and unrealistic expectations for the Grenadiers going into the following Gold Cup. Our subsequent elimination from a reasonably winnable group was met with the usual and expected dejection. What made this pill even tougher to swallow was the fact that the national team was loaded with quality professional players, yet produced the usual underwhelming results.

IMG_8481Never in the history of Haitian football has the national team assembled so many professional players within its ranks as it does currently. No less than fifteen Grenadiers present at the Gold Cup 2015 qualifiers are currently competing in professional European or Asian leagues. A handful of them, the likes of Jeff Louis, Jean Sony Alcenat, and Donald Guerrier have even showcased their talents in the preliminary stages of the UEFA Champions League or the group stage of the Europa League. One would think that such abundance in quality would have guaranteed a level of skill necessary to compete with the second tier of CONCACAF i.e. Honduras, Jamaica, and Trinidad. Yet we could barely salvage a draw against Antigua, and we still can not match Jamaica’s physically taxing style. Why does our national side still struggle to claim its place among the established second tier of the CONCACAF? The answer lies in the awkward and unusual marriage between amateurism and professionalism.

The Haitian Football Federation is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Its organizational structure is archaic at best. Marred by incompetence and a plethora of allegations of corruption, the Federation and the National League have all but lost credibility among football fans. Their wrongdoing has led to the near demise of the Digicel League. As a results, new manager Marc Collat has no choice but to rely exclusively on the aforementioned professionals playing abroad. The environment influences the athletes’ behavior and performance. Indeed, when professionals are placed in an amateur environment, they tend to display a lackadaisical behavior detrimental to the level of concentration and attention to detail necessary for success. Can the Federation be trusted to create a professional atmosphere conducive to success around the national team? Have the professionals become bigger than the Federation and the team itself? This makes for quite an awkward and complicated marriage.

In 2015, the Grenadiers have two big challenges ahead of them. First, they will compete in the 2015 Gold Cup with two tickets to the prestigious Copa America Centenario in 2016 on the line. Meanwhile in the fall, they kick off another qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup 2018. Can they succeed? They certainly have the quality to do so. In the meantime, fellow countrymen, let us not let our spirits get too high nor too low.

Photo credit: fhfhaiti.com

Photo credit: Jovan Julien www.JovanJulien.com

Ralph Ganthier

Ralph is a financial analyst, educator, and sports journalist currently living in Haiti. He is a lover of politics, music and cinema, and is an expert at all trivia games.

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