Belize’s national football team were briefly held up by an armed gang in Haiti’s capital Port-Au-Prince on Monday morning. The team, known as the Jaguars, had arrived in the capital for a World Cup 2022 qualifier and were on their way to their hotel from the airport when they were stopped by the armed gang, the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) said on Facebook.
“Despite the four-man police escort, the team bus was stopped by an uproar of insurgents with assault rifles on motorcycles,” the FFB said in a statement, adding that its escorts had to negotiate with the armed gang for the team’s release.
“We are pleased to report that our Jaguars, although shaken by their terrible experience, are safely at their hotel,” the statement added.
The FFB said it was in contact with FIFA and regional football federation CONCACAF “to get them to safer territory”.
“It was a moment of intense fear,” Belize’s co-captain Deon McCauley said.
The players, who were not harmed in the incident, described the scene in an interview with a Belize television station. “Suddenly, we saw so many motorcycles with a lot of men and they were armed. You know, they stopped the bus and all we see, they were talking to the police. After that, we wanted to know what was happening. The next, they wanted us to turn back, pointing their guns at the police. So we don’t know what to do,” Ian “Yellow” Gaynair, who plays defense for the Belize national team, recalled.
“Some of us were doing some video and they pointed on the bus and said cut out the video, so we had to cut the video, pull the curtain,” Gaynair said.
“All of us were really traumatized, fearing we didn’t know what would happen. Next thing we thought they would even want to come on the bus.”
Belize are expected to play Haiti in Port-au-Prince on Thursday in the first round of CONCACAF qualification matches for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Haiti Soccer Federation officials are at the moment awaiting the decision of FIFA as to whether the World Cup qualifier will be held on Thursday in Port-au-Prince.
In what is now the African diaspora’s oldest country, Haiti is in political crisis again, with protesters demanding new democratic elections and the resignation of current President Jovenel Moïse following years of corruption claims. For about half a century, the Caribbean nation has struggled to overcome the problems of poverty and inequality. It is a country that has also seen the worst of brutal dictatorships in the hands of the Duvalier family. The country has also suffered both natural and Western-ensured tragedies. Kidnapping for ransom has been on the rise in recent months.