Latin America & Caribbean

Haiti's rocky route to Rio: Scarce funds, mixed fortunes

Members of Haiti's Olympic team attend a welcoming ceremony at the Athletes" Village ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 4, 2016 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Haiti's athletes have had to overcome financial difficulties to make it to Rio

Ten athletes from the Caribbean nation of Haiti have made it to the Olympic Games in Rio.

They are competing in seven disciplines ranging from wrestling to swimming.

But their path to Rio from the poorest nation in the Americas was anything but smooth.

Some of Haiti's athletes had to seek donations or pay themselves for their training and preparation as the Olympic Committee of Haiti (COH) struggled to find the necessary funds.

Short of cash

Just days before the opening ceremony, COH President Hans Larsen said that he was still looking for financing from the private sector to cover expenses and debts.

The COH had requested $250,000 (£190,000) in funding, a pittance compared to the $18m the neighbouring Dominican Republic allocated to its Olympic Committee.

But the government only gave it $70,000.

Haiti's Bank of the Republic stepped in and provided $15,500, but the hole in the budget remains considerable.

Even Haiti's flag bearer, wrestler Asnage Castelly, had to ask for donations.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Asnage Castelly (right) asked for donations to fund his attendance at the Olympics

Castelly, who lives in the United States and teaches wrestling in Springfield, Massachusetts, was seeking $10,000 but his appeal raised a mere $1,914.

But his initiative impressed COH President Larsen who said the wrestler was "a symbol of Haiti's sports" and who suggested it may have swayed the committee to choose Castelly to carry the flag at the opening ceremony.

The uniforms worn by the delegation during the ceremony were also donated.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Asnage Castelly (with flag) leads the Haitian delegation during the Rio 2016 opening ceremony

They were given to the team by the Haitian tourism ministry.

During the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the ministry financed an exhibition to promote tourism in Haiti and attract visitors in the wake of the 2010 earthquake which devastated the country.

This year, officials informed Haiti's Olympic Committee that they just did not have the funds to mount a similar venture at the Rio Games.

Ready to go

But now that they are in Rio, Haiti's athletes are, in the words of judoka Josue Deprez, "ready to kick some butt".

Deprez, who works as a fitness and judo coach in Miami, posted pictures of himself and his children saying he was ready to roll.

Image copyright Instagram\Josue Deprez
Image caption Despite budget constraints Josue Deprez is eager to compete
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Josue Deprez (in blue) is competing in the men's 73kg judo contest

Swimmer Naomy Grand'Pierre, too, feels fortunate to have made it to Rio.

The student at the University of Chicago failed to meet the automatic qualifying time but was informed to her delight by the International Swimming Federation that she would still be able to compete in Rio.

She and fellow swimmer Frantz Dorsainvil were chosen under the federation's universality rule, which allows countries where no swimmer has achieved the qualifying standard to nominate one man and one woman to compete at the Olympics.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Frantz Dorsainvil trained in a private pool in Port-au-Prince

Triple jumper Samyr Laine was not so lucky.

Originally listed by the Haitian government as one of the athletes going to Rio, he failed to qualify.

Asked on Twitter if he was going to Rio, a disappointed Laine answered "unfortunately, no," on 28 July.

Haiti has only won two Olympic medals in its history, a silver in the long jump in Amsterdam in 1928 and a bronze in shooting in the Paris Games of 1924.

But the country's Olympic committee president Hans Larsen is optimistic - he has said he expects Haiti to bring back at least one medal from Rio.

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