By Gregory Bryce
Ever since I began watching their journey when they made their historic qualifying campaign, which saw them participating in the 2019 France Women’s World Cup, I’ve found myself an avid supporter of the Jamaica Reggae Girlz squad and I’ve kept myself up-to-date with the decisions and actions being taken regarding the team. The players have shown just why the team has seen the levels of success that it has, and it shows the talent in Jamaica.
I’ve spoken on occasion about Khadija Shaw’s striking abilities and her resulting accolades, and have also mentioned the talent that she has alongside her. From skillful Trudi Carter, to the pacey Deneisha Blackwood, the stalwart Allyson Swaby and the young rising talent Jody Brown, the Reggae Girlz are blessed with an abundance of talent on all sections of the park.
But what would have been had these girls not been given the chance to showcase this all?
The team might seem to be as a result of decades of development and support, but that is not the case for the Girlz. In fact, the Girlz have been inactive for many years before their World Cup qualification and it is due mostly in part to Cedella Marley, that we even have a team today.
The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) made the decision to disband the national team back in 2008, due to a lack of funding being readily available for the team. The team would stay as such until 2014 when Cedella Marley took over as the team’s ambassador and it was her fundraising effort which saw the eventual resurrection of the Reggae Girlz programme.
Despite Marley being named ambassador back in 2014, it was not an instant revival for the team. In fact, as recent as March 2018, the Reggae Girlz went as unranked by FIFA due to a shortage in the number of matches played.
When the Girlz had lined up for the 2018 Caribbean Zone qualifiers of the CONCACAF Women’s Championship (through which they would qualify for the Women’s World Cup), it was the first time in two years that the team had been assembled.
This means that following two years of absence from play, plus a six-year period in which the team was disbanded, the Girlz would go on to dominate the Caribbean Zone qualifiers and further book their spot at the World Cup – a remarkable achievement for the team, and even more remarkable when you take into consideration the virtual lack of financial support.
The Reggae Girlz and the JFF have in recent times been seen in the media, as being at odds, and there is good reason. Again, it must be reiterated that the existence of the team is seen mostly as being, in part, due to Marley’s intervention. She is the one quoted as being the main financial, physical and emotional support for the team.
But what part does the JFF play in the team’s continued existence?
As the official federation and governing body for Jamaican football, the JFF has to be included in the future plans of the Reggae Girlz. The integration between the Reggae Girlz and the JFF, however, has not been great.
I recall reading in several articles which chronicled the team’s road to France, that while overseas in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship, the team had neither jackets nor mittens to help them cope with the cold weather as they were underfunded by the JFF, and it was the coaching staff that rushed to buy the necessary clothing out of their own pockets.
Following their success, Hue Menzies – then head coach of the Reggae Girlz – was quoted by the Washington Post as saying the JFF only started to care for the team when it seemed profitable.
“We call them wagoners. Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon,” Menzies was quoted as saying, in a Washington Post article.
Recent history has not shone the best light on the JFF, but while the Reggae Girlz have achieved a lot, there needs to be a better working relationship between the two bodies to ensure the sustainability of the programme.
Former national player, Sherona Forrester, spoke on it briefly in a recent article featured in the Gleaner. Forrester says that one of the main issues that the team has faced in the past is gathering corporate sponsors and this is due to supporters of the team being reluctant to give to the JFF body due to fear of mismanagement.
Forrester says that oftentimes, persons are more willing to give to the team and coaching staff directly and not through the JFF, and she feels that it would serve the programme better if sponsorship and support is given through the JFF.
“They want to give it to the manager or a coach, but they have to bridge that because JFF is the parent body, and it needs to come through them because sometimes what JFF does is filter it through,” Forrester said.
“Sometimes it is not just the senior teams that get it. It also goes down to the grass roots. So it is not that it is not there, but it is how they filter it because they are a company, and they have many arms.”
But while she acknowledges that, she says the JFF also needs to be more transparent in their dealings for any future relationship with the team to flourish.
The Girlz have already proven they have the ability to make our country proud, so now, the job is up to the JFF to properly support and sustain the team.
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports journalist.
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