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Marley, Reggae, and No Pay: Jamaica's Fight for Acceptance

Adversity breeds resilience and there is no better example of that than the Jamaican women’s national team. After folding not once but twice, they rose from the ashes to become the first Caribbean nation to qualify for a Women’s World Cup.

Get Up, Stand Up

The Jamaican Football Federation cut funding for the women’s national team in 2008, and the team ceased to exist. It would take six long years, but in 2014, Cedella Marley (daughter of Jamaican singer and songwriter, Bob Marley) learned of the team’s fate and vowed to revive the women’s program. 

Bonus: Bob Marley’s love for Jamaican cultural roots had a deep link with football. The best historical record of the bond between the icon and the beautiful game was embodied in the documentary Rastas et ballon rond (Rastas and the Round Ball), a classic piece shot in 16 mm, where he utters the famous words “football is freedom.” 

Achieving the Impossible

In April 2018, the unranked Reggae Girlz, who hadn’t played a match in three years, embarked on their magical journey to the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.

Their qualifying campaign got off to a flying start, thanks in no small part to the coaching expertise of Hue Menzies. The Jamaicans played at the top of their game from the get-go, and most of the national teams they came up against were swatted aside with ease. Despite losing to Canada, the Reggae Girlz maintained their momentum and bounced back with a 1–0 win over a battle-hardened Costa Rica team, which set in motion their unlikely achievement.

A loss to the mighty USWNT set up a final playoff against Panama. With qualification on the line, the game was deadlocked at 2–2 and had to be settled on penalties. Against all the odds, and with no financial assistance from their federation, Jamaica became the first Caribbean country to qualify for the showpiece event of women’s football after Dominique Bond-Flasza converted the all-important spot kick.

The Big Stage

Their time in France wasn’t what they had hoped for, as exceptional performances from goalkeeper Sydney Schneider were undermined by rash defending and poor finishing, leading to the Reggae Girlz crashing out in the group stage. Hopeful that their appearance at the World Cup had earned them respect, they returned home with their heads held high, but were unable to secure the additional financial backing they needed.

The program remains shamefully underfunded, and during Olympic qualifying, rumors surfaced that the team could be disbanded once more. Luckily, the Reggae Girlz are still here, but without the support of their federation, the future is uncertain. 

Stories like the Reggae Girlz serve as inspiration for many around the football world who struggle to keep their dream of playing alive. Please join us in contributing to their journey.


Illustration by @inakivector.

This story was featured in one of our newsletters.