WASHINGTON - FIFA, the world football (soccer) governing body, will allow the Haiti-Belize World Cup qualifier to be held in Port-au-Prince on Thursday.
“Moments ago we received confirmation that the game scheduled for tomorrow against Haiti is on,” a statement posted on the Football Federation of Belize Facebook page said.
FIFA dispatched a security expert to Haiti on Tuesday to assess the situation after armed men on motorcycles held up the Belize team bus at gunpoint shortly after they arrived in the country Monday. The incident happened as they made their way from the airport to their hotel, despite having a police escort. No one was hurt. Video recorded by a team member and later posted on social media has gone viral.
Upon Belize’s 🇧🇿 arrival to Haiti 🇭🇹 for their World Cup Qualifier, their police escort was stopped by armed “insurgents”— Nico Cantor (@Nicocantor1) March 23, 2021
This is the video going around on social media.
Match is set for March 25. Belize has put out an official statement. pic.twitter.com/B3Z0gTfW16
Ian “Yellow” Gaynair, who plays defense, described the experience in an interview with a Belize television station.
“All of us were really traumatized, fearing we didn’t know what would happen,” Gaynair said.
Belize team official Marlon Kuylen immediately reported the incident to FIFA and CONCACAF, the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football.
“We’ve told them in no uncertain terms that we want to get our players out of the country,” he said.
Haitian Soccer Federation communications director Tessier Jeanty told VOA the security expert toured the capital shortly after arriving in the country and later met with team officials. Jeanty said the official planned to send a recommendation to FIFA and CONCACAF, which would make the decision about whether to relocate the match.
According to FFB, the FIFA security expert held multiple meetings with Haitian national police officials and security forces as well as officials of both countries’ soccer federations.
“No tensions were palpable any longer and the reported incident was clarified with additional security measures being agreed [to] and undertaken to prevent any repetition,” a message sent by FIFA to Earl Jones, general secretary of the FFB said, adding that “a reported case of miscommunication” had led to the bus being driven to “a wrong area.”
“The safety and security of the visiting team’s delegations, of FIFA’s match officials as well as of all actors of this match are guaranteed at all times during the period of stay in Haiti,” the FIFA statement said.
Some Belize fans reacted with skepticism, asking if the players are insured.
“Well Belize, we wish you well and praying nothing happens to the players apart from being traumatized,” commented fan Eliceo Ken.
In a message to Jaguar fans, player Norman Anderson said, “It’s a lot of sacrifice but we made up our minds to be here to represent our country.”
The Football Federation of Belize expressed full support for its players.
“We continue sending love and best wishes to our Jaguars as they go into this game. Belize is with the Jaguars!” the organization said.
Earlier Wednesday, the Haitian Football Federation said on its Facebook page that the customary media event allowing reporters to watch teams practice at the stadium had been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. The federation also canceled a press conference.
Later, photos of the Haitian national team practice at the Sylvio Cator National Stadium were posted.
The Haiti-Belize match is scheduled for 5 p.m. EST Thursday.