Five athletes represent Haiti in the London 2012 Olympics, four are Haitian-American track and field athletes from the United States; Linous Desravine, judoka, is the sole Haitian native to compete in London. The country has only five competitive tracks, three of which are still being used as tent cities. The Olympic committee has a budget of $400,000, a tad shy of the United States $170 million. Only one Haitian has ever won an individual medal. Silvio Cator silvered the men’s long jump in Amsterdam in 1928, and the national stadium in Port au Prince is named for him as a result of his achievement.
But the fact that Haiti does not have an illustrative Olympic history does not diminish the sports zeal in this country. Like in most poor countries, football (soccer to Americans) is the games of choice. Young boys as little as three chase any size ball they can find all day long. A flat field is rare in this hilly, rocky land, but they are very nimble working the ball up and around tough terrain. There is a large open plain on the edge of the sea just beyond Mirlitone where young men play soccer every night. It appears to be a rudimentary pick-up game where guys side off into ‘shirts’ versus ‘skins’ but the rosters are always full and there are many spectators. Judging from the enthusiasm of the players and the cheers of the crowd, the play is exciting and the rooting intense.
Today I walked home from work and came upon the first official looking game I ever saw here. Middle school boys blocked off a street, set up a pair of goals with sticks and a wire across the top, and a uniformed referee used his whistle liberally. The constant stops the referee triggered made the game less graceful than the guys at the beach, but lent the proceedings more gravity. Each team spent as much time lobbying the ref as they did maneuvering their players. There was a large crowd and partisan opinion swelled with every play.
I doubt we will hear the Haitian anthem and watch its flag rise over London; that has never happened in Olympic history and would be remarkable during these games. But if the spirit of the Olympics is to get people all over the world to appreciate and participate in sport, to play hard but to play fair, Haiti can hold its head with any other country parading into the stadium.