The former president of Haiti’s football federation, whose lifetime ban from playing the sport over allegations of sexual abuse was lifted last month, announced on Wednesday that he was regaining his position.
Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant statement could lead to an impasse with FIFA, which has already set up a crisis management committee to run the Haitian Football Association until November.
Jean-Bart’s virtual press conference came a week after Haiti’s women’s soccer team beat Chile 2-1 in a historic match to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup final for the first time, sparking jubilant celebrations across the country.
Jean-Bart has denied allegations by FIFA’s ethics committee, which issued a lifetime ban after finding him guilty in 2020 of sexually abusing female players as young as 14, keeping mistresses and preying on girls from impoverished neighborhoods.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland overturned the ban two weeks ago, ruling that there were inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the testimonies of the alleged victims. The court also found that the information provided by groups such as Human Rights Watch and the global players’ union FIFPRO was not “sufficiently evidentiary”.
Jean-Bart, joined by several lawyers in a video conference, also said he would file an alleged defamation suit against the independent journalist who first reported the accusations against him in the British newspaper The Guardian.
“He’s going on the offensive. Let it be known,” said his attorney Stanley Gaston.
Gaston added that Jean-Bart is battling cancer and it is unclear when he will return to Haiti, noting that all business will be conducted virtually.
Another lawyer, Claude Ramoni, stressed that Jean-Bart is no longer suspended and that he has the right to continue as president of the Haitian football federation.
“He was elected president for four years and his term is not over,” Ramoni said, adding that FIFA should recognize him as such. “They have to accept it.”
FIFA officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment. It is unclear if FIFA must allow Jean-Bart to lead the Haitian federation again.
The emergency panel set up by FIFA to run Haiti’s football federation is led by a veteran soccer player from Cuba and is expected to represent Haiti on March 16 in Rwanda when FIFA’s 211 member associations hold their annual meeting.
FIFA could deny Jean-Bart eligibility for events it organizes, including the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which starts in July. The month-long tournament is co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, which typically require Haitian nationals to apply for a visa. It was also unclear if FIFA planned to appeal the court’s decision to uphold Jean-Bart’s appeal.
Human Rights Watch said the Court of Arbitration for Sport “wrongly overturned” Jean-Bart’s lifetime ban and urged FIFA to appeal the ruling.
“In Haiti, FIFA and football gave Yves Jean-Bart immense power, including exploiting child athletes and covering up his abuses with threats to kill survivors and family members,” said Minky Worden, director of the statement.
“At the trial, the (court) failed to provide basic witness protection, despite the knowledge that many athletes and federation employees received death threats,” the statement reads.
Jean-Bart, who has headed Haiti’s football federation since 2000, also announced Wednesday that he would create new safeguards to prevent sexual exploitation, including establishing an ethics committee.
“I have to thank God for the support and strength to fight all the allegations from my enemies in Haiti and abroad for 20 years,” he said. “They’re still trying to beat me by all means.”