Bob Marley's Daughter Fights To Keep Jamaica's Women's Soccer Team Afloat Despite A Lack Of Support
With the help of a feisty team and Bob Marley's daughter, women's soccer has been resurrected in Jamaica.
June 19, 2019 at 12:49 am
Although Jamaica was eliminated from the 2019 Women’s World Cup on Tuesday, the Reggae Girlz secured tons of firsts this week.
They became the first Caribbean country to qualify for the Women’s World Cup and scored their first goal ever on Tuesday.
Jamaica just scored their first-ever World Cup goal ????
(via @FOXSoccer) pic.twitter.com/25fRvjDtqw
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 18, 2019
The squad has had to struggle mightily to get this far. In features published in The New York Times and ESPN, team members said the team's resurrection can be traced back to Cedella Marley, the daughter of reggae legend Bob Marley.
Here's what Marta told the #ReggaeGirlz As our focus shifts to ???????? Italy. We pause to give thanks for our journey and the support along the way. Bless up! pic.twitter.com/nI7GBGTvbp
— Kayon Davis, FIFA (@FIFAWWC_JAM) June 10, 2019
"It's a choice that the girls have made to play, and we should give them an even field to go out and kick the ball," Marley told ESPN in May.
"Football is freedom. That's a quote from Bob Marley."
Officials from the Jamaica Football Federation have had a contentious relationship with the team because of a severe lack of funding. The JFF disbanded the team twice in the last 10 years and have been criticized by coaches and women on the team for corruption and mismanagement.
However, that has not stopped Marley and the Reggae Girlz from cobbling together a World Cup squad that has excited the country.
The JFF officially cut funding for the team in 2008, leaving it dormant for nearly six years before Marley stepped in to help out. Marley only found out about it when her son came home from school with a flier asking for donations to resurrect the team.
Marley was livid to find out that the JFF had disbanded the women's team and kept funding the men's team fully, despite little success since their one World Cup berth in the '80s.
"People were saying no to [the women], and it was for no reason. The more I got involved, the angrier I got," she told ESPN.
She initially funded the team with her own money and through fundraising efforts she organized herself. Despite her best efforts, members of the team were still struggling to keep up with their well-funded rivals. Women's teams from the United States, France and Australia play and practice in state-of-the-art stadiums that are fully funded by their governments.
the Reggae Girlz are getting a standing ovation from Jamaica AND Australia fans as they do a lap of the stadium. #JAMAUS
— Samantha Lewis (@battledinosaur) June 18, 2019
“Thank God I brought my team and my family because we were the cheerleaders,” Marley said in an interview with the Huffington Post in France on Monday.
“I brought a House of Marley boombox, and we would play the theme song when the girls were running out to the stadium. It was hilarious the amount of stuff we did at the time. We were really having fun. And the girls were having fun, but they were taking every single task very seriously. And now we are here.”
Members of the Reggae Girlz team had to wash their own clothes, buy their own equipment, organize their own travel and much more. Many work jobs and have to take off time to practice with the team. Even with all their hard work, the JFF disbanded the team again after it did not qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Jamaica has had under-15, under-17 and under-20 women's teams, but no senior national team. As a result, many young talented players had nowhere to turn. Some moved to the U.S. and honed their skills at universities or colleges, while others went to Europe to play.
Jamaica's first-ever World Cup goalscorer Havana Solaun speaks after creating history!
FT: Jamaica 1 – 4 Australia. #OptusSport
— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) June 18, 2019
Marley refused to give up and decided to resurrect the team again. This time around, she dedicated her energy toward making the team self-sufficient. She managed to get funding from international foundations, and she hired a highly regarded coach from Orlando named Hue Menzies. He has been coaching for free since 2016.
Things really turned around during a tournament in Texas last year. Due to the lack of funding from the JFF, coaches had to go to Costco to buy some players coats for the cold weather. During the tournament, the team managed to secure wins over Costa Rica and Cuba, which set them up for a final match against Panama that would decide whether they made it to the 2019 World Cup.
The team won a nail-biter, finishing Panama off in a shoot-out after overtime.
Although they lost all three matches they played against Brazil, Italy and Australia at the World Cup this year, the team is very proud of their effort and hopes to build on this strong first step.
They still face problems at home though. Leaders of the JFF have been open about refusing to fund the team because of cultural stigmas related to Jamaican women playing soccer. Even though the men's team has not had much success on the world's stage in recent memory, the JFF has never considered disbanding the team and continues to fully fund all of their activities.
When the women's team secured their World Cup berth, the JFF signed the team's members to contracts ranging between $800 and $1,200 per month. Menzies will also finally be paid for his work, but he will get just $40,000. Some team members joked in multiple interviews that they haven't been paid yet and are worried they won't be.
"This is about overcoming adversity and changing the way people look at women’s soccer in Jamaica. For a Caribbean country to sign a women's coach to a full-time contract is unheard of," Menzies told The Miami Herald in May.
"For the region, it’s massive. Every little kid now can touch and feel somebody in the World Cup, not just watching another country play soccer. We are stepping over those boundaries right now. We hope other Caribbean countries like Trinidad and Guyana are inspired to do what we’ve done.”
The Reggae Girlz Foundation was established last year to bring in funding for the team and for women's soccer programs across Jamaica. The 29-year-old goalkeeper of the team, Nicole McClure, was frank about the team's struggles with the JFF in an interview with The New York Times.
“Their attitude has been pretty poor,” McClure said of the Jamaican soccer federation.
“We’ve always been an afterthought, and we’re still fighting for equality. We want a seat at the table. It’s been quite frustrating.”