Newsmaker: Reggae Girlz make World Cup history amid funding firestorm Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

This week’s overall development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is the Reggae Girlz’ historic feat of securing a spot in the Women’s World Cup knockout stage for the first time, becoming the first Caribbean female team to do so in the competition’s history.

Amid the remarkable feat by the No 43 ranked team in the world, the sensational achievement was somewhat overshadowed by a firestorm over funding support for the Reggae Girlz’ 2023 FIFA World Cup campaign. This included arguments that it was a GoFundMe campaign that essentially supported the team’s overall preparation to get to Australia and New Zealand, where the event is being staged.

The Government and the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) were quick to dispel such arguments, pointing to millions of dollars that were allocated to support the Reggae Girlz.

On Wednesday, many Jamaicans remained tense and anxious as they watched the female team go up against one of the best female football teams, Brazil, which is ranked number eight, in a quest to advance to the round of 16.

At the end of it all, history was written and a nation left proud as Jamaica held the Brazilians to a goalless draw and advanced to the round of 16.

More fancied countries like second-ranked Germany and No 7 ranked Canada, were sent packing from the tournament.

The Reggae Girlz showcased an impressive defensive prowess throughout the group stage, finishing second in Group F. Remarkably, they did not concede a single goal against formidable opponents, such as France and Brazil, and had addition to their 1-0 win over Panama.

Jamaica will face South American giants Colombia in Melbourne, Australia in the round of 16 on Tuesday, August 8. A win would create even more history for the small Caribbean island of just over 3 million people.

It is the first time Jamaica is keeping a clean sheet in the tournament following their 2019 debut when they conceded 12 goals in the group stage.

The island joins Japan and Switzerland as the only other teams to enter the round of 16 without conceding a goal.

From a historical perspective, Jamaica is the first Caribbean team–male or female–since the Cuban male team in 1938, to be in a round of 16 at a World Cup.

Goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer and head coach, Lorne Donaldson, expressed elation following the team’s remarkable effort to advance at the 2023 female tournament.

Spencer, who made her debut for the Reggae Girlz in 2021 after a stint in England’s youth programmes, stands as the oldest player on the roster at 32 years of age.

Also basking in the Reggae Girlz’s glory were several public officials, including Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding.

Holness on Wednesday tweeted: “Historic!! Go #ReggaeGirlz!! Jamaica! Best in the world! #Greatness is in our blood!”

Golding wrote: “Amazing! Our Reggae Girlz have sent Brazil home… 18 shots, 0 goals.”

Sport Minister Olivia Grange and Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) President, Christopher Samuda, also lauded the history-making feat of the Reggae Girlz.

Writing on her Instagram page, Grange admitted to “shedding a fear tears. Tears of joy”.

She added that, “These have been magnificent performances by the Reggae Girlz for Jamaica in this World Cup. Words can hardly describe how well they have done.

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

In commenting on their accomplishment, Samuda said: “History is indelibly at their feet, the present secured in the palm of their hands and the future in the vision of young girls who are dreaming the possible.

“The Reggae Girlz are authoring a script in football that is inspiring a nation to aspire where it was thought (that) dreams only resided,” he stated.

But then the jubilation turned to controversy after stories began surfacing in the international media that the Reggae Girlz had to resort to crowdfunding through GoFundMe to broadly assist in their journey to the World Cup.

The crowdfunding claims were further peddled when Reggae Girlz captain, Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw, was seen in an Instagram live video indicating that the team “had to go on GoFundMe to get money to be here”.

Grange, on Wednesday afternoon, said she spoke with Shaw relative to the controversy surrounding the team’s funding, during which she (Grange) cautioned her (Shaw) of how such social media commentary could affect the country’s affairs.

“The impression that’s being given is that they (the Reggae Girlz) struggled and they’re on their own, and they got where they got to, and a GoFundMe account was set up to help,” said Grange at a press conference to announce Jamaica’s team to the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary later this month.

“I spoke with her (Shaw) and indicated to her that she has to be mindful of the comments she makes because they can embarrass Jamaica.

“She agreed, and she clarified (that) the GoFundMe account that was set up was done by one of the players’ mothers, and the funds were sent directly to them,” Grange informed.

“Each girl got US$1,500 for their subsistence. They have to manage what they say and not give the impression that they are not getting the support they need,” the minister insisted.

In a release earlier on Wednesday, Grange dismissed reports that the Government did not contribute to sustain the team’s participation in the World Cup.

She said the Government allocated $20 million towards the campaign.

Of the $20 million, she said half is being paid directly to the players of the team through the ministry’s athlete assistance programme.

The sport minister also noted that both the ministry and the Sports Development Foundation (SDF) provide a monthly contribution of $3 million, which amounts to $36 million per annum, to the JFF for its programmes.

“In addition, the Government insures the Reggae Girlz under the Jamaica Athlete Insurance Plan, which covers all health-related services, including injuries and overseas emergency services up to US$100,000 per athlete,” she said in the release.

For the JFF, it issued a statement in which it said it noted the public information regarding the funding source that “has taken away the focus from the celebration around this historic achievement”.

The JFF said while it appreciates all the help it can receive, the vast majority of the funding for the Reggae Girlz is being provided by FIFA, the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), the Government of Jamaica, Adidas, Bob Marley Foundation, corporate Jamaica sponsors and the Reggae Girlz Foundation.

“The JFF would like to thank these sponsors, as without their assistance, the Girlz and the other national teams would not be able to prepare or participate in any competition, including the World Cup,” the release said.

Besides those issues, Jamaicans on social media called on their fellow nationals to celebrate the positive history-making feat of the female footballers, and leave the negatives behind.

“If GoFundMe use yes or no, that’s another issue, but let’s celebrate the (Reggae) Girlz please,” said a woman on Facebook.

“Proud of our female footballers. (I’m) sorry this funding issue came up and caused their achievements to get pushed aside for unnecessary mix-up,” a man wrote.

“… The back and forth arguments have… only caused more tensions, and have taken away from the real vibes that this historic occasion should have brought,” said a woman relative to the controversy surrounding the funding of the Reggae Girlz’ World Cup participation.

Other persons welcomed the clarity that has been provided by the Government on the funding issues.

“It’s great that the minister (Grange) can clear the air on this funding issue for the Reggae Girlz,” said a man on Facebook.

Added another: “I welcome the clarity, but I feel we should focus on celebrating the Reggae Girlz. This is history (that) they have done (at the World Cup)!”