Allez Les Grenadières

When Haiti’s national women’s team take to the field for ninety minutes, they allow the Haitian people to dream.

Renane, aged 8, plays football in Port au Prince, Haiti, 2010. Image credit Russell Watkins via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed.

According to Haitian sports journalist Bertinie Cherizard, “Haiti is one of the bastions of women’s football in the Caribbean.” Les Grenadières—named for an armed unit of the Haitian indigenous army—have attracted significant attention for being what FIFA has called Haiti’s golden generation of women footballers, making their impact known year after year in the face of overwhelming local obstacles. In 2023, the national senior women’s football team competed in the women’s World Cup for the first time—appearing with one of the youngest teams in average age, with only four players older than 25 and six teenagers on the squad—but were unable to make it out of the group stages. Les Grenadières appeared on the international stage again in February 2024 for the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup preliminaries, competing for the final qualifying slot of the tournament against Puerto Rico. 

The recent attention is certainly a boon, but this newfound visibility did not happen in a vacuum—it is the result of a hard-fought journey spanning over 50 years. In 1971, Parc Sainte Thérèse, located in Pétion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince about eight kilometers away from the heart of the city, began hosting young women’s football games with girls from nearby neighborhoods. That December, the Amazones, Haiti’s premier women’s football club, was founded. Other clubs quickly came to fruition—AS Tigresses, Excelsior from la Plaine, and Gladiatrice were founded by early 1972. By the second tournament at Parc Sainte Thérèse in October 1972, 10 women’s football teams had signed up. The sport quickly expanded past the Port-au-Prince area—with teams like Aurore de Brach and Anacaona in Léogâne, Star des Gonaïves, Les Irondelles des Cayes, Les Jongleuses du Cap Haitien, and Surprise de Jacmel—and the clubs all had loyal fans that drew large crowds.

In October 1973, the Haitian Football Federation (FHF) officially recognized women’s football, giving the teams access to the country’s national stadium, Stade Sylvio Cator. This pivotal change allowed Haitians to easily walk to the women’s games, eliminating prohibitive transportation costs for Port-au-Prince’s working-class fans who would have to commute to Parc Sainte Thérèse. Over the years, more resources became available to women’s football, like Camp Nou, a residential facility for young players offering traditional schooling in addition to sports training, referred to by most people as “the ranch.”

Fifty years later, the women’s national team is the darling of the country. “Today, the excitement has been taken to a new dimension. More money has been invested into the women’s football scene, there is more visibility, and the technology is more advanced. We have some veritable stars on the team,” said Cherizard. Among these star players is national team captain Nérilia Mondésir—aptly nicknamed “Nérigol” for her scoring capability—who started in AS Tigresses and now plays for France’s Ligue 1 team Montpellier HSC. There is also Melchie Dumornay, a.k.a. Corventina—Haiti’s star midfielder who “is going to be one of the best players in the world,” according to the Stade des Reims head coach—and Batcheba Louis, the Most Beautiful Goal winner of France’s top women’s soccer division in the 2021–2022 season. “These ladies have been producing great results from the time they were participating in U20 and U17 tournaments,” Cherizard further explained. “The recent World Cup qualification has attracted the attention of eyes outside of Haiti to our team, but in Haiti, we have been tapped in for a long time.”

Kerly Théus, the brilliant goalkeeper of the Haitian national team and FC Miami City, has undoubtedly become a darling of the Haitian people since the 2023 World Cup. Born on January 7, 1999, in Canapé-Vert, Pétion-Ville, Théus got her start playing in her neighborhood like the rest of her teammates; her career as a goalkeeper began with the Aigle Brillante team in Port-au-Prince on a day when there was no other available goalkeeper. “My sister yelled at me to go play goalie. I didn’t want to do it; I wanted to play,” Théus recalled. “There is this notion that you stick the players who aren’t very good to guard the goal, so nobody wanted to play that position.” 

Théus admits she was not a very good goalkeeper in her early days on the ranch. She recalls a game where her team was losing 3-1: “They put me in the game, and we ended up losing five to three. There wasn’t even that much time left on the clock,” she laughed. “But I believe in hard work. Cristiano [Ronaldo] is my favorite player. He also believes in hard work. That’s why he’s earned several Ballons d’Or. That is also my goal.” Her discipline would pay off: during the three matches played by the Grenadières in the World Cup, she was an essential element. While polls predicted Haiti would face overwhelming defeat against England, Théus prevented a massacre by making an impressive 10 saves and keeping the score to a 1-0 loss.

 In February, qualifying senior national women’s football teams of the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) competed in the inaugural Women’s Gold Cup. After the team successfully landed in second place in a qualifying group that included Costa Rica and Saint Kitts and Nevis, they were bested in their February 17 matchup with Puerto Rico. Haiti conceded a goal via a penalty in the 41st minute of the game; the Grenadières’ impressive offensive efforts could not tie the match by halftime. Mondésir failed to take advantage of a penalty in the 75th minute, and the team ultimately lost 1-0. Despite the talent of the Haitian players and the high-level professional clubs to which they now belong, the women’s team once again were not able to make it out of the qualifying rounds.

Théus blamed the loss on a lack of connection. “There were many new players, many of our usual players were not there, and we had new staff,” she explained. “We couldn’t find the balance. It all comes down to connection. When you see us on the field, it’s as if each person is doing their own thing.” This is in no small part due to years of lacking much of the necessary infrastructure that is viewed as vital to establishing a successful team on the world stage. While Haiti’s fans may have been disappointed, the team still left its mark: one of the top scorers of the Road to CONCACAF qualifying games was Melchie Dumornay (who also plays for football club Olympique Lyonnais), tying with El Salvador’s Brenda Cerén with eight goals each. 

In 2020, two journalists published an article in The Guardian exposing interference, corruption, and crimes within the Haitian Football Federation. The president of the FHF, Yves Jean-Bart, was accused of sexually abusing underage female players for several years at the ranch. The allegations included harassment, threats, blackmail, and psychological pressure. Jean-Bart was ultimately removed from his position as a result and banned from holding a position at the federation by FIFA, but in 2023 Jean-Bart appealed before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and won. The investigative journalists and opposing organizations argue that the victims were threatened into silence. Despite CAS’s ruling, the federation continues to be led by a normalization committee

Haiti’s women’s team made great strides to recover and continue to play at the highest level despite the impact of the damning allegations. But as they rebuilt, the team was also forced to confront their country’s troubles. According to a UN report, 80% of Port-au-Prince is controlled by armed gangs. The catastrophe of insecurity that Haiti has been facing over the last few years has been a significant roadblock for the group and caused the ranch to shut down. The majority of social activities have been suspended, and Stade Sylvio Cator, located at the center of several armed groups’ strongholds, has been pillaged, burned, and left inoperative, with the FHF unable to organize friendly matches. 

Through the political upheaval, the women of the Haitian national team have preferred to avoid speaking about politics in the press or on social media. Members of the Haitian men’s national selection are much more candid on social media and have faced criticism for making insensitive comments. The Grenadières are more cautious with their images, letting their impact as political symbols of pride be their main contribution to the discourse. 

The sustained instability has significantly affected the team’s cohesion, preventing the players from developing synchronicity among themselves. Friendly matches are a critical practice to building compatibility as a team, and since 2020, the Grenadières have played together outside official matches only four times in as many years. In addition to their limited playing experience as a team, the insecurity in the capital prevented the national teams from organizing matches at home, forcing athletes to play in the neighboring Dominican Republic. These games occurred amid a hostile diplomatic dispute between the two countries over the construction of a canal by Haitian farmers on the Massacre River, which runs between Haiti and the DR. These extenuating circumstances would easily decimate any team, making the Grenadières’ accomplishments—from qualifications to scoring records—all the more impressive, all by a group of talented women who continue to persevere despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Over the last several decades, the Haitian people have faced a series of increasingly tragic crises, and Haiti’s sports teams have not been spared. A corrupt federation, violent misogyny, a de facto government that has allowed all major institutions to crumble—the Haitian women’s football team has had to confront unimaginable odds in their desire to represent their country. Despite this, they have managed to create something special—and although they could not make it past the group stage, history will remember Les Grenadières as forces to be reckoned with. “Everything I’m doing right now is something I dreamed of,” Théus told us. Through all of these obstacles, the Grenadières continue to fight. And whenever these young women take the field, for ninety minutes, the Grenadières allow the Haitian people to dream.

Further Reading