AS our Young Reggae Girlz prepare to embark on the final leg of their World Cup qualifying campaign, the occasion presents an opportunity for discussion regarding women’s football in Jamaica.
In a decisive tournament slated for Panama City between March 1 and 11, Jamaica will seek to book one of three CONCACAF spots to the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup to be staged in Japan in the summer.
Interestingly, our Under-17 Girlz also will have their date with destiny when they compete in the CONCACAF Finals May 2-12 in Guatemala. They, too, are looking to cop one of three places for the FIFA stage in Azerbaijan in late summer.
On the surface, and with two teams at the final springboard to global events, it would appear that Jamaica’s national women’s football programme is soaring.
But we have solid reasons to believe that this flies far from the real picture.
While the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) has said it has spent $30 million on FIFA-sponsored women’s football development initiatives last year, the teams continue to be starved of direct corporate injections.
For example, the Under-20 Girlz go to the Panama finals at a tremendous disadvantage as an overseas camp to fine-tune tactical preparation did not materialise for a lack of funding.
We fear the same will befall the Under-17s if solid corporate help is not identified, and quickly.
No wonder our women’s teams repeatedly fail at the CONCACAF level as they go to this critical stage bankrupt of proper preparation to challenge countries that have poured huge sums into their programmes.
With the proposed eight-day camp down the drain, head coach Mr Vin Blaine will have to use an inadequate five-day, two-game camp on local soil to provide an assessment of a number of foreign invitees, plus the overall progress of the team.
International football preparation, at all levels, requires enormous resources in human capital, facilities, travel costs, training camps, nutrition, accommodation to name a few.
From where we sit, Jamaica falls woefully short on each count.
We recognise that times are hard and the corporate dollar doesn’t stretch as far as it used to, but we believe that with innovative thinking and steely resolve, much can be achieved.
It’s a depressing thought, but the sad reality is that women’s football is not seen as a marketable ‘brand’ in a Jamaican context and will always be overshadowed by the marquee Reggae Boyz for obvious reasons.
We have heard of the tireless, but often futile, efforts by the JFF to sell the women’s game, but still corporate Jamaica seems to need more convincing.
Qualifying for one or both of these age-defined World Cups unfortunately may be the fillip that the national women’s game needs.
“The Girlz programme is always under pressure as some people don’t see it as important... we are operating on a top-down basis, which means we have to do well first to get corporate support,” Mr Blaine said in this newspaper.
We wish Mr Blaine’s comments were empty and without foundation, but regrettably we believe them to be true as it’s no secret that Jamaicans have a bandwagonist mentality.
Let’s not forget that women’s football in Jamaica serves a higher purpose than competitive play. Through the school championships, the various women’s leagues and the national programme, many young Jamaican women have found openings to improve their lives, and by extension, that of their families.
Many of these girls have gained scholarships to colleges and universities in North America and there are success stories on the professional playing front.
We particularly take heart in the rise of home-bred Miss Omalyn Davis, who had a rewarding stint playing in the American professional leagues, before moving recently to a top Russian club.
Her success ought to be an inspiration to the current crop.
We wish the Under-20s all the best in Panama, and equally, they should be made fully aware — against great odds — of the burden they bear carrying the cross of the women’s game.