RJRGLEANER Honour Awards | For Sports (Special Award) - Reggae Girlz make Jamaica proud
Jamaica's sporting history isn't short of memorable chapters, to put it mildly. Still, on the morning of Sunday, June 9, when 'Jamaica, Land We Love' permeates the football stadium in Grenoble, France, the island with less than three million people, and the world, will take notice once again.
The most talked-about topic in local sports for some time, the Reggae Girlz achieved the spectacular feat in October by becoming the first national senior women's football team from the English-speaking Caribbean to qualify for the FIFA Women's World Cup.
To put this success into perspective, Jamaica's women's team, which is currently ranked 53rd in the world, qualified alongside two other teams from Concacaf - defending world champions and world number one, the United States; and world number five, Canada.
That achievement has merited the 2018 RJRGLEANER Special Honour Award for its significance to the continued growth of football in Jamaica and has ensured a return to France two decades after their male counterparts made their World Cup Finals appearance there in 1998.
BOOSTING BRAND JAMAICA
"The hottest component of Brand Jamaica at the moment" is how head coach Hue Menzies described the senior Girlz in an interview with The Gleaner last month at King's House.
His declaration came against the backdrop of the Government's efforts to honour the historic achievement with four days of festivities across the island.
"When you travel, you better understand Jamaica as a brand, and we feel that right now, at this moment, we're at the top of the heap," added Menzies.
But, what is reality today was at best a pipe dream a decade ago when a lack of funding forced the suspension of the national senior women's football programme.
Up stepped Cedella Marley, national senior women's football team ambassador and daughter of reggae legend Bob Marley.
Marley, chief executive officer of the Bob Marley Foundation, a non-profit organisation, began sponsoring the Reggae Girlz in 2014 after their six-year hiatus from football.
She also toiled in the background to use her influence to attract financial support for the team, while largely instrumental in recommending coaches Hue Menzies and Lorne Donaldson to the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF).
"I always knew that the players had the talent and the passion it took to make it to World Cup," Marley was quoted as saying.
"What they needed were the necessary resources to train and prepare properly," she added.
Alacran Foundation, Supreme Ventures Limited, and, more recently, Caribbean Airlines have also come in for special commend-ations for their backing of the programme.
Finances aside, what will be talked about for decades is the determination and grit displayed by the Girlz in the last rain-drenched battle against Panama in Texas last October to claim the third and last available spot from the Concacaf region for the World Cup.
Twice the Jamaicans took the lead, and twice they found themselves pegged back by the stubborn Central Americans.
So, to the spot they then went to decide, from 12 yards out, who would feature in France and who would suffer the heartbreak of being so close, yet so far.
With two Panamanians failing to convert their penalties, it was left to 22-year-old Dominique Bond-Flasza to score and send Jamaica back to the promise land. And that she did.
"It is an unbelievable feeling; it is a feeling of accomplishment," expressed assistant coach Andrew Price.
"What the country witnessed live here in August and in the final round was a united, focused and determined set of players, who knew exactly what they needed to do to make themselves and the country proud," added JFF President Michael Ricketts.
Jamaica, the lowest ranked of the 24 teams set for France, has been placed in Group C, alongside Italy, Australia and Brazil, with the latter two ranking in the top 10 and the former not far behind.
While progression from the group seems a tall order at the very least, captain Konya Plummer recently told The Gleaner that the outpouring of support and pride from across the nation would serve as added motivation for the members of the team, who were already confident and in high spirits.
"All the pressure went once we qualified for the World Cup, so our job is to go there and do our best and make the country even more proud," she said.
In talking up the significance of a RJRGLEANER Honour Award, Price said it meant a great deal to the players and also the coaching staff.
"This group of Girlz are deserving of all the accolades they are currently receiving. The team had a dogged, never-say-die mentality. They wanted to achieve foremost for their country, their families and, more importantly, for the younger generations to come. They wanted to inspire them to strive for their dreams," he said.
One thing the team desperately wants for the country is for there to be a cessation in the crime and violence, especially against women and children. They want it to stop. There is too much goodwill in our wonderful island to promote instead of all the violence. We must unite as a nation and continue to promote our island paradise.