Thursday, February 22, 2024

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Women's World Cup- Uncool Runnings

Team photo of the Reggae Girlz

With the Women's World Cup less than a fortnight away from kicking off across Australia and New Zealand, it would surely seem unthinkable, given the rise in popularity of the ladies' game, that any national team's FA would want to enter into a dispute with those representing their country? But that 's exactly the position in which the Reggae Girlz of Jamaica find themselves- and not for the first time.

 

 

Even FIFA's own article on the subject can't resist something of a dig!

 

So, what made Bob Marley’s eldest daughter and his wife Rita so angry? Well, this is the team that got disbanded twice due to the lack of funding from the parent body, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF). And the excuse: poor results, of course. It’s another matter though that the men’s team, despite failing to make an impression, continued to get blessings, both moral and financial. Probably that’s the thing about women’s sports everywhere. Inequality!

 

As recently as 2008 they had no team at all, the country's Football Federation pulling the plug after failure to qualify for that year's Olympics. The resulting impasse dragged on for six long years before agreement was reached for the team to pull on the shirt once more- an appearance in the 2014 Women's Caribbean Cup final against Trinidad and Tobago ending in a defeat that probably spoiled the celebrations somewhat!

 

Before that, a lack of funding was cited as the reason behind another period of international exile in 2010, leaving them unable to participate in 2011 World Cup qualification and FIFA removing them entirely from the women's world rankings after over three years of inactivity- a sorry state of affairs indeed.

 

Enter Cedella, daughter of the late great Bob, in an ambassadorial capacity as of April 2014. She came aboard as part of a Strike Hard For The Reggae Girlz campaign, with the intention of raising $50,000 to cover the costs of competing in the CONCACAF Women's Championship, which could also lead to the 2015 World Cup.

 

Speaking to ESPN, she revealed how she became involved…

 

My son Skip came home with a flyer that was appealing for help to support the Reggae Girlz. I made a few calls to see what was happening and when they told me the team was about to be dissolved as they had no financial support to be able to play. It wasn’t because they weren’t good, it’s that they didn’t have funds. For the boys, yes, but not for the girls.”

 

Alongside that was the beginning of an effort to look for players from within the Jamaican diaspora in the United Kingdom and beyond – which had worked for their male equivalents ahead of their own, so far only, World Cup appearance at France 98. Manager Rene Simoes went scouting and in so doing started what is still known as the UB40 policy- they of course being UK musicians playing reggae!

 

Four players- Deon Burton, Robbie Earle, Paul Hall and Fitroy Simpson- thus made the squad for the tournament, where they were drawn in Group F alongside Argentina, Croatia and Japan. They finished third after two defeats and a closing win over the Japanese. Interestingly enough the women would also become the first Caribbean ladies team to qualify for a Women's World Cup in where else but France!

 

They did so after having got past Panama on penalties in the third place play off at 2018's CONCACAF Women's Championship, though like the men before them they wouldn't make it out of the group stage, losing all three games after being drawn against Australia, Brazil and Italy. The Reggae Girlz' only goal scored by Hong Kong- born Havana Solaun, who was eligible to play for Jamaica through her mother.

 

The campaign to get to this year's World Cup has been no less fraught, a player revolt seeing the end of then- manager Hubert Busby Jr, after a year in charge, following allegations of attempting to solicit sex from a player while in charge of Vancouver Whitecaps. Lorne Donaldson was the man appointed to take over.

 

And somewhat predictably, money remains an issue, as former Reggae Boy Michael Ricketts, now president of the JFF, raised in speaking to the Caribbean National Weekly.

 

However, the country's government has invested $20 million ahead of the tournament, minister for sport Olivia Grange announcing a monthly stipend for each player leading up to the World Cup-

 

In regard to the support of the Government of Jamaica to the Reggae Girlz, we will be providing a monthly stipend for each member of the squad for their nutrition and other training needs, beginning the end of this month, and this will continue until the World Cup .

And of course, I am looking forward to meeting with the Jamaica Football Federation to see what else we can do. Not making any commitments here, but we’ll talk about it because we certainly want to make sure that the Reggae Girlz have the best chance ever to come home with the trophy .”

 

By way of response, Ricketts welcomed the investment.

 

It will certainly help because we do have a far way to go and I am sure that she [Grange] has unofficially committed to giving us some more support, so I will talk to the minister and see what further support she has for us .

But we are looking forward. It is going to be a struggle but we are very optimistic because we have been getting some new sponsors on board and certainly by the time July 20 comes around, we should be in a better position. But as it is now, we are trying desperately to get sponsors on board and so far it has been working out.”

 

 

Brazil, France and Panama await in Group F, so the hope that they might lift the trophy could require much of that prized optimism! But then, given the journey they've faced just to get there, that in itself is the true result- something of a reggae resurgence.

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