Ruler of the ranch: the rise and fall of Yves Jean-Bart, Haiti’s king of football

Ruler of the ranch: the rise and fall of Yves Jean-Bart, Haiti’s king of football

Special report: The president of the Haiti FA was once feted by Fifa, but a Guardian investigation led to him being handed a life ban over allegations of the sexual abuse of young female players

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.

‘Dadou’

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 in Brazil. “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.” continue reading