Reggae Girlz’ Legacy alive and well - Walker-Brown
This week marks one year since Jamaica’s Women’s Football programme broke the glass ceiling to qualify for a FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The Reggae Girlz beat Panama 4-2 on penalties in a third- place play-off in the Concacaf Women’s championships to advance to the world tournament which was held in France last summer.
The feat was a watershed moment not just for the country but for the region as it was the first time a team from the Caribbean was qualifying for a FIFA women’s tournament.
The achievement was significant as it reinforced the hunger for the players to break new ground for themselves and leave a legacy for the players they hope will come after them.
That legacy seemed tarnished when the Girlz threatened not to don the black, green and gold until they were paid what they were promised for their participation in the tournament-- an incident which attracted international attention.
The stand-off between the Girlz and Jamaica Football Federation ( JFF) came on the heels of their ambassador Cedalla Marley calling out the local administrators publicly for not properly handling money she had raised for the programme.
But even with the mishaps, JFF women’s football chairperson Elaine Walker Brown believes that the impact of qualification has led to more girls being inspired to match and surpass this group of Girlz, who they now see as role models.
“It has gotten more young players interested. When you go to the primary schools, the young ladies are on top of the world. They want to be a Khadija Shaw, they want to be a Jody Ann Brown, they want to be a Trudy-Ann Carter,” she said speaking to Star Sports.
Jamaica stepped on the field in France in June becoming the only nation in the Caribbean to send both men and women to the World Cup, and although they were not able to garner a point in their tournament debut, the Girlz left their mark on the back of great performances by goalkeeper Sydney Schneider and Havana Solaun, who scored the country’s first-ever goal at the finals against Australia.
Walker-Brown has also pointed to the impact that the Reggae Girlz have made at the grassroots level getting young girls involved in the sport. “Last Saturday, I went to the launch of the Jamaica Independent Schools Association (JISA) Prep School Competition and it’s the first time that they are introducing girls to that competition. So it’s really paying off that JISA now sees the importance to assisting us with developing our grassroots programme through there JISA prep schools football competition,” she said.
The rift between the JFF and the Girlz took its toll as they could only manage a seventh-place finish at the Pan American Games in Peru back in August.
But the matter now seems settled as a recent meeting between the Marley and the JFF President Michael Ricketts seemingly repaired their relationship. Walker believes that the focus can now return to continuing building on the programme’s successes. She states that the Girlz focus is now solely on making sure that they are on the plane for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“They want to play. They want Jamaica to see them play and they want to do their best. All they want to prove to Jamaica is that we as women can play and all we need is support.” “Khadija[Shaw] just talked to me the other day about what we need now in February for the Concacaf Olympic qualification because we are going up against big teams. So we need the practice games and the camps. So they have put that behind them and it’s all about the football now for the Girlz.”
The women are coming off an excellent first round in Olympic Qualifying winning all four of their group games and scoring a massive 37 goals in the process. Shaw, who plays in France for Bordeaux, added to her legacy during the first round becoming Jamaica’s all time leading international goalscorer with 40 goals,a record previously held by former Jamaican and Habour View forward Luton Shelton. Jamaica will battle the likes of the United States and Canada in the final round of Olympic Qualifying early next year.