Despite a lack of support from the Jamaica Football Federation, female soccer team the Reggae Girlz found their footing and became the first Caribbean team to compete in the Women’s World Cup in 2019.

Success is the result of many factors, but having a strong will and a great support system are a solid basis. In June, Jamaica’s national women’s soccer team, the Reggae Girlz, made its first Women’s World Cup appearance and made history as the first Caribbean country to play in the Women’s World Cup. The Reggae Girlz had been largely ignored by the local media and the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), but their World Cup appearance provided visibility and 23 role models for Jamaican girls who dream of playing.

Originally formed in 1987 as the Jamaica Women’s Football Association, the Reggae Girlz’s road to the 2019 World Cup had more obstacles than their competitors. The JFF governing body disbanded the team in 2008, and the team sat in limbo for years due to a lack of resources. Years later, the Reggae Girlz found their footing and began competing again, this time with a community of supporters cheering them on.

“Awareness was the big thing that we were able to garner,” Reggae Girlz Foundation President Michelle Adamolekun said of the World Cup appearance during a phone interview. “It was surprising to me how many individuals weren’t even aware that Jamaica had a women’s football team.”

As the Reggae Girlz competed in the Women’s World Cup, generations of Jamaicans showed appreciation on the players’ personal social media pages and on the pages of Jamaican media. In their first match against Brazil, 19-year-old goalkeeper Sydney Schneider grabbed the attention of former Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and former U.S. goalie Hope Solo, who praised Schneider’s “focus and talent” during a penalty kick save.

The World Cup was also an opportunity for girls in Jamaica, and those of Jamaican descent living in the diaspora, to represent the island nation. Yet the Reggae Girlz boasted one of the most diverse teams in the tournament, with three players from Canada, 13 from the United States, and six from the island itself—truly  representing the country’s motto: “Out of many, one people.”

“It’s a great mechanism to uplift young women and young girls to achieve their long term goals,” Adamolekun said. “It’s brought awareness to girls who have never thought of playing football. Now they have role models that they can look up to.”

Before the Reggae Girlz left Jamaica for the competition in Europe, The Gleaner sports reporter Karen Madden discussed how the team was met by adoring little girls at an inner city school in Kingston. Weeks removed from their final game in the 2019 World Cup, the Reggae Girlz still receive nothing but support from adoring fans.

“Messages have been nothing but positive,” goalkeeper Nicole McClure said. “I’ve been told that representation matters. Young girls [of] color are inspired by what we have done for our country. I’ve also been told how proud of me they are and they are genuinely happy.”

Reggae Girlz World Cup Team

The Reggae Girlz have their own role models—particularly one woman who has advocated for the team in front of the JFF and established a network of support. Cedella Marley, the daughter of reggae superstar Bob Marley, became an official ambassador of the Reggae Girlz in 2014. Since, she has rallied sponsors to help raise capital for the team and stands up for the Girlz when the JFF falls short of its promises. While the Reggae Girlz prepped to compete in the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru this July, the JFF was late paying the team for their World Cup appearance. Still, the JFF demanded that Marley first give funds raised for the Reggae Girlz to the governing body instead of directly to vendors and the team. Marley called out the JFF and now controls the funds that the team used at the Pan American Games.

Tired of relying on the JFF, the Reggae Girlz Foundation (RGF) was formed in January 2018. The charitable organization brings awareness to the unequal treatment of female soccer players face—including pay, access to equipment, and other resources—and has raised roughly $50,000 to fill the gaps in the projected budget of $300,000 provided by coaches and the JFF. According to Reggae Girlz Foundation President Michelle Adamolekun, $300,000 would allow the team to run at least five camps. RGF’s fundraising and awareness efforts will help sustain the team and keep a pool of players for future tournaments.

With increasing interest from local coaches of school-aged girls and the continued efforts of RGF, the Reggae Girlz have no plans to slow down. The team considers the World Cup the entre to the many goals—both on and off the field—that they plan to score.

“What we do on the field is really for the next generation of girls growing up in Jamaica,” McClure said. “We really want them to develop everything and take them seriously and not just pump the money into the men’s program, but focus on the women, focus on the girls growing up, looking up to us.”

Lauren Williams is Boston-based writer by way of Jamaica. She wrote for for three years. The ex-college swimmer enjoys telling stories about athletes on and off the field and out of the water.