Jamaicans are celebrating a team that was once disbanded because of funding cuts but played its way to a 0-0 draw with Brazil, after a draw with heavyweight France and a win over Panama, thus advancing to the round of 16 in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Their story has led to Cinderella analogies — something head coach Lorne Donaldson was asked about after the match with Brazil. “I don’t know; Cinderella wears a pretty dress,” he joked, adding the team was “just going to take it one game at a time.”
“… And if we can wear a pretty dress, we’ll put it on,” he said.
Their success — a feat the Jamaican prime minister described as “HISTORIC!!” — has given the island nation all the more reason to celebrate its upcoming Independence Day on Sunday.
But even as they celebrated the rise of an underdog, critics highlighted underfunding in the world of women’s sports and insufficient financial support in Jamaica that pushed the Reggae Girlz to rely on crowdfunding to help cover expenses for the World Cup.
In the run-up to the team’s trip to Australia, midfielder Havana Solaun’s mother launched a GoFundMe campaign called Reggae Girlz Rise Up that had raised more than $50,000, alongside other efforts.
The players have also said they are grateful for support from reggae icon Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella Marley, who intervened nearly 10 years ago to help raise money and restart the team after funding cuts disbanded the national women’s program. Marley has said she was inspired by her father’s love of soccer.
“I’m overjoyed,” one Jamaican told a Caribbean sports channel on Thursday. “Tell the Reggae Girlz to keep on movin’, keep on groovin’,” he added, quoting lyrics from a Bob Marley song.
“Jamaica as a nation has punched well above its weight in world sports,” said Akshai Mansingh, the dean of the Faculty of Sport at the University of the West Indies campus in Jamaica. “But the much-publicized struggles of the Reggae Girlz makes this achievement dearer to the hearts of the country,” he said.
He said he hoped their success would make authorities review support for women’s soccer teams in Jamaica, “just as it will inspire young ladies to consider the sport as seriously as others mentioned as a viable means for livelihood.”
Responding to criticism about government funding, the country’s sports minister, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, said 10 million Jamaican dollars (about U.S. $65,000) was allocated this year specifically for the team’s World Cup campaign, in addition to other forms of support. “We can only do so much, but we always rise to the occasion, and we play our part in ensuring that they get funding,” she told Jamaican media.
Grange said the match against Brazil was “undoubtedly the proudest moment so far in Jamaica’s football history.” “I could not help shedding a few tears. Tears of joy,” she said on Twitter.
The team’s next game is Tuesday against Colombia.
The Reggae Girls have criticized the Jamaica Football Federation and decried a lack of support ahead of the World Cup but pledged to do their best, anyway. “I feel like we’ve been hugely underestimated,” goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer has said.
“Reggae Girlz making history,” one fan tweeted after the game that catapulted the team to the next stage. “I can’t even express how proud I am to be Jamaican.”
Fielding questions about whether the festivities would lead to a national holiday in Jamaica, Donaldson, the coach, told a news conference this week that he was sure Jamaicans would celebrate “like you’ve never seen.”
“Trust me, Jamaicans love a reason to celebrate,” he said.