In Haiti, the soccer world supports the head of the federation accused of rape

PORT-AU-PRINCE: in a training center outside the Haitian capital, where young soccer players live under a coronavirus Locked up, the atmosphere is heavy, after accusations that the head of the national sports federation raped several teenagers there.

But at the academy, once a ranch owned by Haiti ex strong man Jean-Claude Baby Doc Duvalier - players and staff are largely in Yves Jean-Bart on the side, calling him a father figure.

President Jean-Bart is like a father to all of us ... he loves and respects everyone, says Yvette Felix, a 38-year-old former national team captain who has worked as a coach since 2006.

The claims come from a report by The Guardian, in which the alleged victims and their families said that Jean-Bart, 73, had raped or sexually assaulted them in the past five years.

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Several alleged victims, who said they had been pressured to remain silent, told the British newspaper that at least two minors were forced to abort to cover up rapes.

Haiti an police have launched a probe into the allegations, first revealed late last month, and a judge has already summoned several federation employees to answer questions.

Two women's advocacy groups, SOFA and Kay Fanm, have issued a statement in support of the alleged victims.

However, in the Haiti an Football Federation At the center, which was founded after the devastating 2010 earthquake, several people told AFP that they were surprised by the claims.

The President treats us like his own children. I don't think all of that really happened. I don't think so, said a 12-year-old player who has lived downtown since December.

In the general sports community in the Port-au-Prince area, Jean-Bart's vision as a father figure spans generations.

He has led the country's soccer federation for two decades. His reelection in February for a sixth term was a mere formality: he ran without opposition.

Contacted by phone, Jean-Bart categorically denied all the charges against him.

This is an insult to the nation, he said, adding that he planned to file a complaint in Paris against the French journalist who co-wrote the Guardian article.

He slandered our country. It left a stain on our flag. He insulted the girls.

Football is revered in Haiti , and has given the impoverished Caribbean nation a few moments in the international spotlight.

For some, attacking Jean-Bart, often referred to by his nickname Dadou, is similar to attacking the country as a whole.

After the Guardian article was published, several players staged a protest at the training ground. Photos of them circulated on the internet.

We made signs to say 'Stop tarnishing our image, stop tarnishing the image of the nation,' explained Kerly Theus, the 21-year-old goalkeeper for the women's national team.

While the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment has flourished around the globe, it is still in its infancy in Haiti . Victim blaming is common. The freedom to speak out against an assailant is not encouraged.

When we talk about abuse here, sometimes people think it's the victim's fault, that they wanted it, that they accepted it, Theus said.

Before, when we posted a photo or video of us on social media, people were proud, he added.

Now because of what was published, if we post a photo, people say, 'That's the president's wife.'

Before being confined to the facility as a safety measure in mid-March, when the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Haiti , the players were already living in somewhat spartan conditions, crammed into dorms with crumbling walls.

Hanging a sheet between beds in rooms is the only way to get a little privacy, and is not necessarily a guarantee of personal safety.

We share rooms. We are together all the time and we are friends, but you may have a problem in your life that I don't know about, said Melissa Shelsie Dacius, 20.

I can't really say that nothing ever happened to the people who live here with me, he noted, before adding: Nothing ever happened to me.

Webens Prinsime, a former player for the men's national team, says he has known Jean-Bart for more than 30 years.

No one wants to associate with someone who would ever rape a minor, or have her abort, Prinsime said.

If the president is guilty, he should pay, but at least let soccer continue ... If he is not guilty, we should leave him alone.