Laurie Foster | Girlz deserve more support
Last week marked a most historic achievement in the sporting arena - Jamaica became the first team from the region to qualify for the final round of the FIFA Women's World Cup. It is of special significance that this took place among a host of limiting factors that could have seen the faint of heart give up the struggle even before it started. The game at that level has never received the recognition or respect that has been afforded its male counterparts, the Reggae Boyz, who made that transition to the global stage in 1998.
It all started from the late 1980s when the later-to-be-called Reggae Girlz took their show on the road, strutting their stuff to audiences gathered for apparent mouthing ridicule rather than an interest in watching their progress. Then in 2002, they were granted what turned out to be a 14-year partnership with the multi-national paint manufacturers, Sherwin Williams, stepping in to promote their competitions. When that ended in 2016, the local league went limp, with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) unable to adequately pick up the slack. The Sports Development Foundation (SDF), a government entity, assisted in maintaining the league.
NO TIME TO QUIT
Thankfully, with all the inherent challenges, the ladies stuck to their task of raising the level of interest in the neglected sport. Given their individual and collective ambition to create history, this was no time to quit. Enter the daughter of Jamaica's highly celebrated reggae icon, Cedella Marley, and the Bob Marley Foundation, together with their partners, the Alacran Foundation. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history. According to the notation on their website, the Cedella group "aids in raising awareness for the team and encourages development, as well as providing for it financially".
The final stage to this momentous occasion was the CONCACAF qualifiers. The Girlz were in a group with Canada, Costa Rica and Cuba, from which two would go to the semi-finals. With the No. 5 world-ranked Canada expected to come out on top and Cuba not looking a likely threat, Costa Rica became the game that had to be won. The Jamaicans had lost to them 1-2 in the recently staged Central American and Caribbean Games, so the scale of challenge was not unknown. That was soon put behind them with a clinical strike by ace forward Khadija 'Bunny' Shaw. Cuba capitulated with nine goals in their net, and the semi-final spot was secured. The 6-0 defeat by the USA was no surprise, so it was on to the decider with Panama for the third/fourth spot, with the winner joining group winners Canada and the USA for seats to the grand finale in the country that took the FIFA men's crown this year.
It would not have been the final opportunity to advance as a home-and-away clash with South American team Argentina loomed. As was said after, the Girlz were not about to depend on that outcome. A ding-dong encounter with Panama, 2-2 at full and extra time, went to penalties. Coach Hue Menzies, supported by assistants former national player Lorne Donaldson and Jamaican Premier League coach Andrew Price, substituted regular goalkeeper Sydney Schneider with shot-stopper Nicole McClure, who did that twice, and the resulting 4-2 spot kick saw the Girlz home.
Foster's Fairplay calls on the Government to respond by using the win as another platform to promote Jamaica on the global stage. The Girlz deserve the support and not to be seen as 'children of a lesser god'. Also, the president of the JFF should see this as an opportunity to expand the reach for sponsorship for the programme merely by being in the right place at the right time.
It was wild celebration after the game, including a show of intended patriotism in the confines of the dressing room thereafter. Some callers to talk shows thought otherwise, and there was a bit of negative criticism of the spontaneous singing of the national anthem. Foster's Fairplay considers this to be a bit over the top as the Girlz should not be pilloried for this moment of enthusiasm as, after all, it was supposed to be private and away from probing cameras.
Give them some freedom to express themselves. They are all genuine Jamaicans, and they did it for the country.