There’s never been a football match like it.
Not since the second world war has Brazil played such a role in world affairs, leading the UN mission in Haiti, and it seemed obvious to use one of the greatest weapons at its disposal: Football.
Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who will fly in for the match, called on manager Carlos Alberto Parreira to field his strongest possible team but pleaded with them not to run up a cricket score so as to not spoil the party.
“The president said that as a bit of a joke. The more goals we score, the happier the Haitian people will be,” said the manager.
The match will give Haitians an opportunity to forget about the crisis all around them – if only for 90 minutes.
Haiti has plunged into more chaos
Some 80% of the population live below the poverty line in a population of nearly 8 million.
In the six months since Jean-Bertrand Aristide left – whether he fled or was ousted is debatable – amid riots that left about 300 dead, Haiti has plunged into more chaos and killings.
In the last few weeks a gruesome string of dismembered bodies have been turning up all over the country, killed for politics or profit, according to the Haiti Progress newspaper.
“Heavily armed bandits came into the area and proceeded directly to the home of Ti Betiz,” Celestin Jean Victor, coordinator of a local peasant organisation, said of one typical case.
“They killed him by decapitating him and taking away the head, leaving behind the body with the arms amputated,” he said.
The 29 February de facto government has given the former rebel soldiers that carried them into power a deadline of 15 September to disarm.
Guns for tickets
“I am very keen to go to Haiti with my team to play for peace and as a Brazilian I am very proud to be one of the few who are given the opportunity of making a contribution to ending years of fighting in this country”
An arms-for-tickets plan initially touted as a way of taking guns off the streets in return for Haitians watching the game of their lives has been dropped as it quickly became apparent that this was creating a desperate scramble for rifles for anyone who was without.
Tickets will now be distributed to students and their families.
The national stadium, Sylvio Cator, can only hold 13,000 people and so the Brazilians have constructed 10 giant screens in a country where TVs are sparse.
The stadium has been out of bounds and the perimeter peppered with street sellers who will be moved on.
It is into this climate that some of the world’s top footballers will land under the highest security, causing concern and consternation among Europe’s top teams as to the safety of their prime assets.
The team is training in neighbouring Dominican Republic, and amid tight security will be flown in and out within five hours to play the extraordinary match.
In Terre Noir, a slum of Port-au-Prince, there has been gang violence when Brazil and Argentina have met in international competition as their neighbourhood is split across these footballing lines.
Ronaldo is planning a second
Real Madrid’s Ronaldo, a Goodwill Ambassador of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said: “I am very keen to go to Haiti with my team to play for peace and as a Brazilian I am very proud to be one of the few who are given the opportunity of making a contribution to ending years of fighting in this country.
“But I also want the people of Haiti to know that I equally deeply care about the fact their country is the most affected by poverty in the Americas,” he added. “I have therefore decided to organise with the United Nations Development Programme a second ‘Match Against Poverty’ in the coming months and to channel part of the funds thus collected through UNDP to anti-poverty projects in Haiti.”
Football is a major national passion in Brazil. Many buses have footballing heroes painted on the back of them and murals depicting Ronaldo – one of the best and best known players in the world – colour the walls of the capital.
Hopes of glory
Brazil have never played in Port-au-Prince. And in pure footballing terms, Haiti does not have a hope on 18 August, having lost 9-1 and 4-0 in their only two encounters.
But they have lived their moment of international glory – going one-up against Italy in the 1974 World Cup when talisman Emmanuel Sanon broke goalkeeper Dino Zoff’s 1143-minute world record without being scored against.
Although the Haitians eventually lost 3-1, no one alive that day has ever forgotten.
Brazil is exporting its football, not
Haiti’s interim prime minister Gerard Latortue has pledged $1,000 to anyone who can “do a Sanon” and score for the country against the reigning world champions.
“You know, this game with Brazil is not only a sports event but it is also an event like any other. I think these players who are going to represent the Haitian team deserve everybody’s encouragement,” he said.
Troops not enough
“This game is very important. It is a historic event,” says General Heleno Pereira, head of the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti.
“It is the beginning of a new history for Haiti and even for Haitian soccer because the Haitian prime minister always says that he would like the other great national soccer teams of the world like France, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and so on to come play with Haiti.”
Brazil has about 1,200 troops in Haiti leading other contingents from Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
Spain has announced it will send 400 men as the UN tries to get the force up to the 6,700 authorised by the end of August.
The government’s special adviser on Foreign Affairs, Marco Aurelio Garcia, said that troops were not enough and that “it is also necessary to assign a body of economic and social missions.
“Football is a great field of solidarity,” he added.