Most countries have a national sport. A sport that is not only played and watched among the population, but one that is intrinsic to its culture. The United States is baseball, Wales is Rugby, and Haiti is football.
Football (or soccer for my American friends), like many sports, has technically existed since before the advent of recorded history. Knocking a ball into a net without the use of one’s hands has been an active sport as far back as 3000 years ago. The Mayans, Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures of the time played a game where the goal was to knock a heavy ball (at first made of rock, then later on a substance akin to rubber made of tree resin) into a net using only their hips and backs, without ever letting it hit the ground. Much like the football we know today, the game consisted of two opposing teams and they aimed to knock the ball into the opposite team’s net. However, unlike the football we know today, fatal injuries were incredibly common given the sheer size and weight (often up to 16 pounds) of the ball they used.
The first officially recorded instance of a football-like sport dates to 3rd Century B.C., in ancient China. A competitive sport called Cuju where players kicked a ball into a net and were forbidden to use their hands, was played as both a military exercise and for entertainment. Invented during the Han Dynasty, Cuju was initially only played in the army as a fitness exercise, but it was soon picked up by the emperor Wu Di and played within the royal court and among his wealthiest citizens. A special court was also built within the imperial palace at this time and standardized rules were recorded. The sport was improved in the Tang Dynasty; A new air-filled leather ball was used as well as a new goal, one with a net between two posts, that was more much like the football nets we know today. In the Song Dynasty, the sport took hold throughout the country and became wildly popular. Good players became well known and professional players were paid to play in yearly championship games held by the first official Cuju league, Qi Yun She. This ancient Chinese sport is officially recognized by FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) as the earliest form of football.
The English are currently recognized as the creators of “modern” football, having established the first football association in 1886 (International Football Association Board of Great Britain) and the first set of rules that are still in use today.
Football has come a long way since and it is now played professionally and non-professionally across the entire world. FIFA was founded in 1904 to oversee international competitive football, and it is currently in charge of six continental governing bodies comprised of 211 national associations. One of these associations is the Fédération Haïtienne de Football, or the FHF.
Haiti’s competitive history with the sport begins in 1934, when the Haiti national football team became a member of FIFA. Their home stadium is Stade Sylvio Cator in Port-au-Prince, and it was there they played their very first official game in 1934 against Cuba. Haiti has the longest running football tradition in the Caribbean and in 1961, it became one of the founding members of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). It was under this Association that Haiti made it to the FIFA World Cup finals for the first time in 1974, the second ever Caribbean nation to do so. During the tournament, both team’s goals were scored by the same player, Emmanuel Sanon. Sanon’s second goal was a record-breaking opening goal against Italian goal keeper Dino Zoff, breaking the latter’s streak of 1143 minutes without conceding a goal.
Another legendary Haitian player is one who played for the United States in the 1950 World Cup. Joe Gaetjens was born in Port-au-Prince and started playing for the Haitian football club Etoile Haïtienne at the age of fourteen, going on to win two league championships. He attended Columbia University in New York on a Haitian scholarship and it was there he joined the ASL. His skill was exceptional, and he led all players in Brookhatten with 18 goals in 15 games. His famous World Cup performance was scoring the only goal in a stunning 1-0 upset against England, who at the time were considered the “Kings of Football”. This is still remembered as one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history.
Both Sanon and Gaetjens are included in the Les 100 Héros de la Coupe du Monde (“100 Heroes of the World Cup”).
Football is still wildly popular and widely watched and played across Haiti today. The 2020 pandemic put a bit of a damper on the 2020 season, but it seems that come September, players across the country could be taking to the football fields once again.
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Marleen is a Haitian Creole translator and Language Advocate. After completing her Graduate Studies at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (SciencesPo), she decided to launch Creole Solutions to focus on her mission to promote Haitian language and culture. She worked for the Consulate General of Haiti in Chicago and the United Nations Environment Program in Haiti.
Marleen se yon tradiktris k ap travay pou defann dwa lang. Apre li te fini ak etid siperyè li nan Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (SciencesPo), Marleen te deside lanse Creole Solutions pou konsantre sou misyon li pou voye lang ak kilti lakay monte. Avan sa li te travay pou Konsila Jeneral Ayiti nan Chikago ak Pwogram Nasyonzini pou Anviwònman an Ayiti.