Dalton Myers | The Reggae Girlz deserve our praise
The Jamaica senior women's football team on Wednesday qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France. The Reggae Girlz join USA and Canada as CONCACAF's automatic qualifiers. This is a significant achievement for the ladies and another key moment in Jamaica's history. Twenty years since our Reggae Boyz played in their first World Cup, the women have now successfully navigated their way to France 2019.
There are several things to celebrate about our Reggae Girlz, not just the qualification itself but simply overcoming adversity in a 'female' sport that is heavily stigmatised in Jamaica; getting little to no support at the grass-roots or even senior level. The team has had to deal with many financial issues over the years and would have been thankful to Cedella Marley, the Bob Marley Foundation and Alacran Foundation for giving them a chance and supporting their journey.
Interestingly, the prolific Khadija 'Bunny' Shaw opened the scoring for Jamaica in that 13-0 thrashing of Guadeloupe in the 1st round of CFU Qualifiers in Haiti in May this year; and on Wednesday she again opened the scoring in the third-place play-off against Panama that helped us qualify for France. She has been a tower of strength for Team Jamaica. While I have highlighted Shaw, I think the entire team did a superb job throughout the entire qualifying phase. This is something worthy of celebrating for many years to come, as it is simply not an easy feat. You would remember that the team also narrowly missed out on qualifying for the next round at the 2018 CAC Games in Colombia. That is important because originally a junior team was to be sent but the management in their wisdom chose to use the Games as preparation for the World Cup Qualifiers.
Value of girls
This team qualified despite the fact that we are still in a society where several Jamaicans do not see the value in girls playing football as it is deemed too masculine or there's stigma attached to girls and women playing football. The team qualified even though Jamaica did not host a women's football league for many years because of lack of funding after long-standing sponsor Sherwin Williams pulled the plug. The team also qualified even though there is just one age group football competition at the high school level and none below that. There is talk of an under-15 competition later this academic year. At all levels of our education system, there are those who believe the sport is not ladylike; and therefore, females should not play.
To be honest, there are some women in the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and the general football fraternity who have been toiling for years with the programme. They must be commended; so should the coaching and management staff led by head coach Hue Menzies and assistants Lorne Donaldson, Andrew Price, as well as team manager Jean Nelson. Without their sense of belief and love for this country, this would not have been possible.
There's a lot of work to do between now and the Women's World Cup Finals in 2019. The team will definitely need a lot of support. I know when the euphoria has died, it will be easy to forget this team, but my hope is that this will provide a push for our women's programme. I hope we learn from our mistakes in 1998 and use this as a platform to resurrect our national football programme. It's is also a crucial time for the JFF, which has been under severe scrutiny over the past few years, to create a framework for success for the team and the national programme in general.
So, while we celebrate this monumental achievement, let us not forget that it comes against the background of female sports being treated with disdain and given little to no support. Let us look around and think of all the little Jody Browns we have discouraged from playing sports, especially football. Let this be a lesson to us that we are super talented as a nation. We continue to punch above our weight but that is because we are always striving for excellence.
Congratulations to the Reggae Girlz, and let us Strike Hard in France.
- Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and administrator. Email feedback to email@example.com