Women’s World Cup: Jamaica historic run comes despite ‘subpar’ support

As Jamaican leaders praise ‘Reggae Girlz’ qualification to knockout stage, players complain of inadequate resources.

Players celebrate as Jamaica qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup [Hannah Mckay/Reuters]

With 30 seconds left on the clock, prolific Brazilian striker Debinha connected with the ball after a scramble on the edge of Jamaica’s six-yard box.

Becky Spencer, the Jamaican goalkeeper, dove to scoop up the Brazilian header in a heart-stopping moment that sealed the Caribbean nation’s place in the Round of 16 of the FIFA Women’s World Cup last week.

Yet as the Jamaican side ran across the pitch, embraced and celebrated their qualification, the historic achievement also served as a reminder of the players’ myriad complaints ahead of the tournament – skipped payments, poor preparations, and an overall lack of organisation.

Their struggle with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) also highlighted a broader issue with women’s football as players continue to push for equality and more resources.

“The ones up above us, they don’t believe in us, and they always put us through things that we don’t want to go through,” Spencer, who gave a heroic performance to secure a 0-0 tie and qualification against Brazil, said after last week’s game.

Jamaica’s “Reggae Girlz” are set to face off against Colombia on Tuesday as they push for another unlikely victory for a spot in the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

So far, Jamaica have yet to concede a goal in the tournament, despite playing against the likes of France and Brazil in the group stage. The “Girlz” have already outdone their male counterparts, who have never made it out of the group stage at the World Cup.

In 2010, the JFF disbanded the women’s football programme, and it was only restarted in 2014 with the help of Cedella Marley, daughter of the late music legend Bob Marley.

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Trouble with the federation resurfaced in June when the players released a fiery statement expressing “utmost disappointment” with the JFF.

“On multiple occasions, we have sat down with the federation to respectfully express concerns resulting from subpar planning, transportation, accommodations, training conditions, compensation, communication, nutrition, and accessibility to proper resources,” the statement said.

“We have also shown up repeatedly without receiving contractually agreed-upon compensation.”

The players added that these issues remain unresolved.

Against that backdrop, Sandra Lee Phillips, the mother of Jamaican midfielder Havana Solaun, launched a crowdfunding campaign to help the team.

“The journey to Australia in July of 2023 is a costly endeavor and it is my intention to allow both staff and players to focus on the competition by helping raise funds to cover some of the expenses incurred on this incredible adventure Down Under,” the online fundraising page reads.

The effort has secured nearly $75,000 so far.

FIFA declined to comment on the feud when reached by Al Jazeera. But the sport’s governing body has stressed it is increasing investment in women’s football.

FIFA gave each qualifying team nearly $1m in preparation money. It also almost tripled the prize money for the 2023 World Cup from the last tournament in 2019, ensuring each participating player gets at least $30,000.

The details of how Jamaica’s preparation money was spent and why the team needed private fundraising remain unclear. The JFF did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

‘Shedding a few tears’

Despite the allegations of a lack of funding and support, Jamaica’s nearly three million people and their leaders are ecstatic with the team’s achievements.

The island nation’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness described the qualification as “historic” in social media posts, and paid a special nod to Spencer, the goalkeeper, after her player-of-the-match performance against Brazil.

“I’m very pleased with how our women are carrying the Jamaican flag very high,” he told reporters last week.

Sports Minister Olivia Grange said in an Instagram post she “could not help shedding a few tears” of joy after the group-stage qualification.

“This is undoubtedly the proudest moment so far in Jamaica’s football history,” she wrote.

But advocates for women’s sports are seeking more than congratulations.

“Governments and everybody, cut the bullcrap. It’s time to step up and support women’s football,”  Reggae Girlz head coach Lorne Donaldson was quoted as saying by media outlets last week.

Source: Al Jazeera