Visa Denied, Haitian Players in Limbo

Mitch Gelman
Date Published: 

Port of Spain, Trinidad - Last week, Rosemond Pierre was a visa away from a shot at his dream.

If he could get to the United States, the captain of the Haitian National Soccer Team thought he could play for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, a professional team that holds the rights to his contract.

"I want to play for the Strikers," Pierre said a few days ago, explaining his motivation for trying to go to the United States.

All he had yesterday was a busted lip.

A teammate punched Pierre in the mouth when tensions among the 16 players, whose visa requests were refused by the U.S. Embassy in Trinidad, turned into a fistfight. Many of the players on the team, who remain stranded in Port of Spain, are frustrated, said Patrick Nertalis, the player who fought with Pierre.

"The fight was because we were teasing each other. We have been out of our country for more than a week, and have not seen or talked to our families," Nertalis said. "We are worried. But we don't talk about what will happen when we go back. We don't know."

Although three of the players have said privately they do not want to return to Haiti, others have been pressuring them to return home as a team, one of the players said. Ernst Jean-Baptist, a former coach of the national team now living in Miami, who came to Trinidad to watch them play in a regional tournament, said the players are trying to mask their
fear with confidence.

Yesterday, two players gave interviews to a Haitian radio station in Port-au-Prince to say the team wanted to go back to Haiti. But the players do not have plane tickets or any money to purchase them. And relatives of some have tried to get messages to them warning them not to return because they may not be safe when they get back.

The family of one player said the Haitian government is angry and the player's twin brother is afraid the player will be hurt in Port-au-Prince. The head of a Haitian refugee aid organization in Trinidad said the player's brother's concerns may be legitimate. "They went through a door and the door slammed behind them. Now they think they can walk right back through it again," said Asad Mohammed, head of the Haitian Action Support Team, which is housing the team while it is in Trinidad. "I don't think these players realize the implications
of what they have done."

The president of the Federation of International Football Association, Dr. Joao Havelange, said yesterday that the Haitian players must solve their own problem. "This is politics, not sports," said Havelange, who was in Trinidad to attend the finals of the Shell Caribbean Cup, the tournament the Haitian team was eliminated from last week.

Yesterday afternoon, Pierre and Nertalis sat near each other at the tournament finals. They watched as Martinique and Trinidad played for the cup. They were not fighting anymore. Just looking scared.