By Ilio Durandis
IMAGINE the tiny country of Haiti as host to one of the world’s biggest events: the World Cup.
For now, it may all seem like fiction; however, if Haiti wants to be an emerging country by 2030, what could be more opportunistic to show the rest of the world that it means business than by throwing its name in the pool of possible hosts for the 2026 or 2030 World Cup?
The Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) has some stringent requirements when it comes to bidding and hosting the world cup. None of these would automatically disqualify Haiti’s bid.
Usually, the bidding nations simply have to demonstrate that they won’t have issues meeting the financial, security and infrastructure demands to stage the event.
In Haiti’s case, it is clear that the country does not possess the financial means or the infrastructure to host the World Cup; but those are exactly the reasons why Haiti should bid to host the World Cup in 2026 or 2030.
In 2010, Haiti’s poverty and complete lack of sound infrastructure was exposed for the world to see. An earthquake of 7.1 magnitude on the Richter scale not only destroyed much poorly-built infrastructures in Port-au-Prince and close proximity, but it also caused the deaths of more than 300,000 people.
Now, the country is in the midst of a revival. The international community, along with some long-time friends of Haiti, has pledged billions of dollars to help build Haiti back better.
What could be more reassuring to the Haitian people than rewarding them one of the greatest, if not the greatest sports event in the world?
There are many obvious challenges for Haiti to overcome in order to have a successful bid. Nonetheless, a country and people that have abolished slavery and won its independence when the odds were heavily against them can definitely overcome the challenges of hosting a World Cup on its territory.
Normally, FIFA requires host nation to have at least 12 standardized stadiums available for the world cup, alongside tight security, enough hotel rooms to accommodate all 32 nations participating, media and potential fans coming from all over the world.
Where would Haiti get the resources and would it even be worth consideration?
For the first part of this question, it can be assumed that the Haitian government, alongside the Haitian private sectors, friends of Haiti and foreign companies like Digicel, Heineken, Mariott, and Citibank could put together and attract other big sponsors to come up with the finances needed.
This would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for serious investors to get involved. This could be a chance to make real, targeted development happen in Haiti.
Hosting a World Cup is a very expensive venture, and for many host countries the expenses often outweigh the immediate revenue.
But in the case of Haiti, where most of the new infrastructure that would be built is needed and could be put to great uses many years after the World Cup, it would be more than enough to justify those investments. The positive social impacts of hosting the World Cup in Haiti would be immeasurable.
A bid to host the World Cup would have the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs; many of them would be permanent, with great salaries and benefits. Given the current focus on tourism in Haiti, hosting a World Cup would be an irreversible boom for this industry.
It is evident that new hotels, roads, airports, villages, communication centers, medical facilities, IT networks and so forth would need to be built leading to the event. They could all be transformed or put at the disposal of the hosting cities afterwards.
The antagonists of such proposal would not be short of ammunitions to go against what they might perceive as a folly.
But the way I see it, the World Cup would give Haitian leaders and the people a motivation and reasons to focus on real development of all the country’s major cities within a specific timeframe. Certainly, there might be some drawbacks to hosting such a large event in a small country like Haiti, but if, indeed, the world wants to see Haiti emerge as a nation, why not hold the World Cup there?
As a member of CONCACAF, Haiti could also get the support of other nations in the confederation for what would aso be the first Caribbean-hosted World Cup.
The distance between Haiti and other CONCACAF nations could also play a key role in hosting potential fans and teams. For example, if Haiti were not able to have all the hotel rooms or stadiums built; countries like Jamaica, Cuba, Dominican Republic or other Caribbean nations could be involved. This, I understand, would require FIFA agreement and of course an acceptance to do things out of the ordinary.
There are few ways a nation like Haiti can be emergent in a short period of time — but the evolution of and importance of sports to modern economies cannot be underrated.
Haiti is a soccer-crazy nation. If it had the chance to host a World Cup, not only could i serve to bring great unity among Haitians, it would probably be the second-biggest historical event in the history of the nation.
Often only developed and industrialized nations get the opportunity to showcase their wealth, beauty and culture to the world.
But it might be time for an organization like FIFA to think about giving a chance to a less fortunate nation to take advantage of all the great benefits that hosting a World Cup might bring to a host nation.
In Haiti’s case, I am certain that the impact and benefit of hosting the World Cup would greatly outweigh all the negativity usually associated with the event.
Now, the only question is to find enough people who believe this can happen and to start working on a bidding plan to bring the world cup to Haiti and the Caribbean either in 2026 or 2030.
Ilio Durandis, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is the founder of Haiti 2015, a social movement for a just and prosperous Haiti. He is also a columnist with The Haitian Times.