PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from the sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position.
Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association through November.
Jean-Bart’s virtual news conference was held a week after Haiti’s female soccer team beat Chile 2-1 in a historic match and qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals for the first time, sparking jubilant celebration across the country.
Jean-Bart has denied allegations by the FIFA 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 upon girls from impoverished neighborhoods.
The Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the ban two weeks ago, ruling there were inconsistencies and inaccuracies in statements of alleged victims. The court also said that information provided by groups such as Human Rights Watch and world players union FIFPRO were not “sufficiently evidentiary.”
Jean-Bart, who was joined by several attorneys during the videoconference, also said he would file a lawsuit over alleged defamation against a freelance journalist who first reported the accusations against him in the British newspaper The Guardian.
“He is going on the offensive. Let it be known,” his attorney Stanley Gaston said.
Gaston added that Jean-Bart is fighting cancer and that it’s not clear when he would return to Haiti, noting that all business would be conducted virtually.
Another attorney, Claude Ramoni, stressed that Jean-Bart is no longer suspended, and that it’s his right to continue serving as president of Haiti’s soccer federation.
“He was elected as president for four years, and his term has not ended,” Ramoni said, adding that FIFA should recognize him as such. “They have to accept it.”
FIFA officials did not immediately return a message for comment. It is unclear whether FIFA has to let Jean-Bart resume leading the Haitian federation.
The emergency panel appointed by FIFA to lead Haiti’s football association is led by a veteran soccer official from Cuba, and is set to represent Haiti on March 16 in Rwanda when FIFA’s 211 member federations have their annual meeting.
FIFA could deny Jean-Bart a credential to such events it organizes, including the Women’s World Cup that starts in July. The month-long tournament is being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, which typically require Haitian citizens to apply for a visa to enter. It also wasn’t clear 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 annulled” Jean-Bart’s lifetime ban and called on FIFA to appeal the ruling.
“In Haiti, FIFA and the sport of football gave Yves Jean-Bart enormous power, including to abuse child athletes, and cover up his abuses with threats to kill survivors and family members,” Minky Worden, HRW global initiatives director, said in a statement.
“In its hearing, (the court) failed to provide basic witness protection, despite knowing that many athletes and federation staff had received death threats,” the statement said.
Jean-Bart, who had led Haiti’s soccer federation since 2000, also announced Wednesday that he would create new protections to prevent sexual abuse, including establishing an ethics commission.
“I have to thank God for the support and the strength to fight all the allegations over the 20 years from my enemies in Haiti and overseas,” he said. “They continue to try to beat me by all means.”
___ Associated Press reporter Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed. Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.