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Unspared, Haitian Athletics Left To Pick Up The Pieces

With the stench of death intrusively permeating the air and the country’s capital in ruins, the people of Haiti face the challenge of rebuilding in myriad ways. One is its athletic identity.

Among the hundreds of thousands killed in the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12th, were at least 30 members of the country’s soccer federation and at least 11 Haitian Olympians, according to regional authorities. A few more Haitian athletes are unaccounted for and considered missing, possibly still buried beneath the rubble somewhere in the nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince.

That is where the federation’s headquarters are located, in a three story building in which the members were meeting when the earthquake struck. In the group of at least 30 were referees, coaches, medical officials, administrators and an undetermined number of players.

Some of the Olympians in the group of at least 11, comprised of boxers, judo fighters and taekwondo competitors, were training inside the building when it shook to the ground.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, also known as FIFA, has pledged to donate $250,000 to aid the federation in its efforts to get back on its feet. FIFA Vice Presidents Chung Moon-jung and Jack Warner will also personally add a combined $600,000 to the cause.

Although sporting events might be the last thing on a list prioritizing the need to save human lives, the essential role of athletics to any country cannot be diminished.

During the Great Depression, baseball played a critical role in uplifting the morale of any Americans who sought a temporary diversion from the despair around them. The bout between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao was more than a battle between two boxing greats. It transcended the sport and put those of Mexican descent, ardently supporting their “Golden Boy,” against Pacquiao’s passionate flock of Filipinos.

The FIFA World Cup might be the best example of national pride when it comes to sports. Countless soccer fans worldwide rally around their countrymen in hopes of propelling them to the international crown, awarded once every four years. Haiti’s national team has never won a World Cup, coming closest to doing so in 1974, losing in the qualifying stages of the tournament. But the team has had its share of success, most recently winning the Caribbean Cup in 2007.

But it will be a long while before Haitian athletes return to the playing field. It is difficult to determine how much of the millions of dollars being raised in relief efforts globally will go towards sports. The country needs to not only rebuild, but rise above its dismal prior state. The road ahead will undoubtedly be difficult and challenge a country who has already had one too many bad breaks.

It will be interesting to see how Haitian athletics will rise from the pile of dead bodies, crumbled concrete and mangled sheetrock to return to global competition. Their ability to do so will play an integral role in helping the nation get through its most difficult time.

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