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6667: More than just a game (fwd)
From: nozier <email@example.com>
Posted at 10:00 a.m. EST Monday, January 1, 2001
MORE THAN JUST A GAME
In Haiti, soccer provides hope for many children___By YVES COLON
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The children step out of the pickup, laughing
tugging on their blue and green undershirts as they race across the
Nearby, cows and horses lazily munch on the grass, not seeming to mind
The youngsters look up at the jets flying low overhead, and joke that
reach their silver bellies with a good kick of the soccer ball. They
lace their boots
and head for the training field bathed in the gentle, tropical light of
the setting sun.
Bobby Duval doesn't notice any of this. He's frowning. The day before,
someone stole one of L'Atletique d'Haiti's large red coolers. Buying
another one is out of the question, and replacing it will involve
another complicated dance with his sponsors. The club was running out of
juice, too, not to mention the small soccer balls used to teach the
smaller players. ``Man, this never stops,'' laments Duval, 47, the
founder of L'Atletique, an anomaly in Haiti because it takes youngsters
from the slums of this city and gives them
training, food and hope -- at no cost. ``This is a lot harder than
It's easy to spot Duval on the field. A former semiprofessional soccer
a tall, muscular man who has gone a little soft in the stomach because
longer plays. In his own way, he's an anomaly, too, this light-skinned
has spent the past six years of his life transforming a field of broken
glass into a
place where kids can launch their dreams of soccer stardom.
In Haiti, where skin color marks boundaries and possibilities, Bobby,
calls him, shouldn't be here. His charges would point him out as a
child of the
light-skinned elite from the hills above the city. Duval's father is an
industrialist, and his brother, Edouard, is a celebrated Haitian artist
Unlike many in his social class who have left the country or retreated
and private security guards, Duval came down those hills -- at least in
many years ago. He sees L'Atletique as his own longterm development
bring his people together and to bring hope to youngsters like Wendy
17-year-old from Duvivier, an overcrowded neighborhood nearby.
``I want to make millions,'' said Wendy, standing in front of the goal,
goalkeeper's gloves and dressed in a black and purple long-sleeve
shirt. In his
wallet, he keeps a picture of the star keeper for the French national
has a poster of the Brazilian star Ronaldo on the wall of the bedroom
with four brothers and sisters. ``I want to go far,'' he said. ``I want
to participate in nationals, and I'm working hard for that.''
Younger children such as Fedner Jacquet get recruited, if they're
talented, or are
enrolled by families who want to take advantage of the opportunity.
nothing, get picked up every day and get help with equipment. All the
have to do is maintain good grades. ``I can't think of being anywhere
else but here,'' said Fedner, 8. ``I make sure I study before I come.''
The children are split into several groups and learn how to move the
ball. By the
time they're 12, ``they're supposed to know well all the different
we're not expecting them to be totally clean,'' coach Biguesnel Felix
Duval doesn't want his program to be a canteen, where kids come only
for the free
lunch. ``If a kid with better skills comes arounds, he'll take the
place of somebody else,''
he said.Wendy is among the older boys who have been with L'Atletique
the past four
years. He's typical, too. (He said his father only recently realized
the name he
gave his son is a common girl's name in the United States.) He stayed
six months because his father could not come up with $50 for a new pair
soccer shoes. He stopped going to school, too, because the family could
afford the monthly tuition. His mother is dead, and his father hasn't
he was 11.
``Whatever you want to be in life, you have to fight for it,'' said
Wendy, who is also
learning plumbing and health care in case he doesn't make it on the
``I'm going to win. I'm going to be a footballer. I'm sure of it.''
Duval is less certain of the future of the club, which used to be a
for a bottling company. There are as many as 300 children in the
130 of whom show up every day. Duval, who still has many friends among
elite, gets some to donate uniforms, shoes, balls and nets to keep the
going. He also gets help from abroad. Every two months, Food For the
Poor brings in
bags of rice for the hot meals each child receives after every workout.
other people to donate cooking oil, beans and juice, as well as money
he uses to
pay the coaches he employs.
``I want this to work because I want to help the kids of Haiti,'' he
said. ``I want
them to be successful through sports. This is the space I'm trying to
change, in a
progressive manner.' He takes no salary for his efforts, living off
rent from a building he bought several years ago during his 15 years as
Duval's own soccer career with the Violette club ended abruptly in 1976
was jailed. He was young back then, full of idealism. He thought he
could make a
change by speaking out against human-rights abuses committed by
Duvalier's Tonton Macoutes. He spent 17 months in prison. When he got
out, he started a support group for former political prisoners, and
continued to speak out until the regime fell in 1986.
He returned to Violette several years later as president of the club.
But, looking around, he saw that Haitian children were being left on
their own to learn soccer. Haitian soccer, competitive at one time at
the international level -- especially in the Caribbean -- was in
shambles. By this time Duval had a son he wanted to place into a club
that would teach him how to play, but he couldn't find one. That's when
he stumbled across the field where dozens of children from the nearby
slum of Cite Soleil were playing. The land was unused after mobs
occupied the property during the waning days of the Duvalier
``I said, `That's what I want to do,' '' Duval said. ``I thought the
owners were going
to help me.' They did. For a while.
Duval built two basketball courts and an outdoor lunchroom where the
can eat. Lately, though, he has been locking horns with the owners.
They want their field
back, now that he has cleaned it up and the property has increased in
because of its proximity to the airport. The 15 acres could easily
several factories and warehouses.
``If they leave me here, not kicking me out, it's because they see I'm
doing a job
the people appreciate,'' Duval said. ``I'm trying to make them realize
that this is a
way out of the tensions between the haves and have-nots. I'm trying to
how strong they can be, how powerful they can be. ``If you decide to do
good and make a dent in this country's poverty, that's power and that
translates into goodwill. Power is when you talk and people listen.
Really, they don't have a choice.''
Duval has gotten a few people to listen. He regularly holds meetings
who support him on just about everything he wants to do. He has even
some of his business friends to bring their children to the club to
learn how to
``I hope my efforts will inspire others, show them that in the end it's
going to be
better for them,'' Duval said. Some of the industrialists have used the
field to organize soccer tournaments for their own employees, to ``lower
tension,'' Duval said. He's negotiating to run a similar training
facility for another businessman who has been impressed by his
successes, but so far they have not come to an agreement.
For Duval, soccer is more than the workouts, more than just a daily
plate of hot
food for the children. Soccer can be a key that helps open other doors,
The lessons he learned from his playing days have come in handy -- in
and elsewhere. Since Haiti is a soccer-crazy country, he made many
some of whom have saved his life on several occasions by warning him of
impending attacks. He feels the center is a way to pay back.
``You have to show people how to find a life,'' Duval said. ``We don't
have a choice
here.''It's paying off. L'Atletique teams have 18 first-place prizes in
In one tournament alone, L'Atletique teams earned eight first-place
of its players have made it in the Under-17 National Team, and several
being scouted by Haitian professional teams. Two of Duval's players,
son, were invited to try out with a second-division team in France.
Duval hopes the successes will encourage the children to stick with it,
discipline, become goal-driven -- like the professionals he brings to
``That's what makes a citizen,'' said Duval, who last year invited
basketball player Mario Elie -- Duval is married to Elie's sister -- to
visit the club.
``Wherever this kid grows, he'll succeed.' Coach Felix believes that,
too. On that afternoon, he was working with 83 players on the field,
making them run sprints and practicing set plays. Felix knows the value
of what Duval is trying to do.
Like many of the children, he was born in Cite Soleil. He has gone on
to coach a
first-division team and has been the head technician at the club the
years. Soccer has no secrets, he says, as a farmer rounds up the cows
and walks them
through the field. Here, he says, soccer needs work from the bottom.
``This program allows the kids to know they have a talent, something in
said. ``Instead of being on the street, they are here learning they can