ISL side Mumbai City FC's Sony Norde and Frantz Bertin talk about Haiti national team's rebirth and the role football played in helping nation get over devastating 7.0 quake which killed over 2,30,000 in 2010
The last time the tiny Caribbean island of Haiti made news was when it had suffered a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January 2010. The temblor killed more than 2,30,000 Haitians and displaced 1.5 million in a country which ranks among the world’s poorest.
The news of the earthquake and the ensuing devastation made headlines world over, but what is less known is the country’s footballing renaissance since the tragedy. Five years ago when the quake hit, the Haiti Football Federation headquarters in the capital Port-au-Prince was flattened, killing 37 of its employees.
The headquarters of the Haitian football federation in Port-au-Prince stands in ruins following the 7.0 earthquake in January 2010. PIC/AFP
Starting from scratch
Lost in the rubble reportedly were all of the federation’s archives and trophies it had received throughout their history. Haitian football, in a sense, had to start from scratch. It was a beginning which India Super League (ISL) outfit Mumbai City FC’s defender Frantz Bertin and forward Sony Norde were also a part of, playing for Haiti right after the earthquake in the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup.
With the earthquake disrupting the football league, Edson Tavares, the then coach of Haiti, who was appointed just eight months after the tragedy, drew up a list of Haitian-origin footballers playing in Europe. The Brazilian then paid for his own flight to Europe, where he hired a car and went on a road trip to convince the players playing in countries like France, Spain and Belgium to play for the national side, according to James Montague’s book ‘Thirty one nil’, a tome which chronicles the struggles of small footballing nations around the globe as they bid to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The results of the patch-work Haiti team were there for all to see — in 2012, just two years after the quake, Haiti rose to No 39 in FIFA’s rankings.
India, ranked 172, on the other hand, has staunchly refused to let Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) play for the country despite the national coach Stephen Constantine’s eagerness to do so.
Born and brought up in France before being picked to play for Haiti in 2007, Bertin still remembers the fateful day like it was yesterday. “I was playing for OFI Crete in Greece when the earthquake hit. I had a few relatives in Haiti who I could not get in touch with for nearly a month,” the defender recalled.
Bertin likened the interest for football in the tiny country to cricket in India. “When the national team plays, the whole country stops to watch the game. Football is the only thing that people in the country can enjoy. The national team therefore is very important for Haiti,” the 32-year-old told sunday mid-day.
While Bertin was spotted when plying his trade in Europe, Norde was first spotted by a scout as a precocious 10-year-old while playing in a local tournament for his school in Port-au-Prince. He was soon playing for the U-11 Haiti team, spending almost six to ten months a year in dedicated training camps with the team, and would later represent the country in the U-13, U-15 and U-17 teams before he got a senior squad call-up in 2006.
Norde still vividly remembers the day he lost his house to the quake. The forward said: “I was in Mexico when the earthquake hit, but my mom and grandfather were in Haiti at the time. My mom is everything for me. I tried calling them frantically but could not get through as telephone lines had been snapped by the earthquake. I flew the next day to Haiti and luckily my mom and granddad were alive, but our house was gone.”
Football’s healing touch
Norde added that the sport has been a balm for his countrymen. “Since 2010, not too many things have changed in Haiti. The condition of the country is the same. Football is the best thing Haiti has for now. It is the number 1 sport there. When the national team plays, the whole country is happy. In Haiti, we have good quality football and a good league. But it is a poor country, so we don’t have the resources to develop football,” Norde said. They may not have the resources, but Haiti is still 99 places above India in FIFA rankings, a fact that should be a wake-up call for the so-called Sleeping Giants.