The Reggae Girlz have held their own against some of the best, mainly on raw talent and passion for the sport. We still have a lot to prove…the only way to keep our relevance is to keep winning! — Cedella Marley
Sport is showing again its awesome ability to unite, excite, give hope, and propel the nation before the world to boost its image. Sport is aiding tourism, trade, Brand Jamaica and economic development.
Our Sunshine Girls gave us excellent performances in the recently concluded tournament — defeating our colonisers, England, 3-0. A tremendous accomplishment! They are now off to the Fast Five tournament. The performance of the Sunshine Girls raises the question again about how effectively we are using our natural, God-given endowments for the national good. What of the development of a serious sports industry for maximum benefit to the country? Why is this still another of those ‘chat bout’ and do nothing stories?
Let’s hear it for the Girlz!
Eight years ago, the national senior women’s football team was dropped by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF). Five years ago they were dropped from the FIFA rankings because they were inactive. Four years ago Cedella Marley had enough of her father’s gumption to decide to help them.
Today they are the third-placed team in Concacaf, and I bet you don’t even know who played the finals or what the score was. But you do know that the Reggae Girlz pulled out a 4-2 win over Panama on penalties to become the first Caribbean country to qualify for FIFA’s Women’s World Cup and that the tournament will be in France — the same country our Reggae Boyz played in when they qualified for the World Cup 20 years ago.
Full congratulations to the team and kudos to the management team and coaching staff. Special hats off to Head Coach Hue Menzie, Lorne Donaldson and Andrew Price. Thank God for the vision of Cedella Marley and the whole coaching staff’s efforts to press against the odds to accomplish this feat.
Let’s learn from the Boyz
It is evident that the team will require a lot of assistance in all areas in order to make Jamaica into a consistently world-class, competitive team. We must be careful, however, not to allow zeal, fear or folly to drive action that is not principled, sensitive, caring to all, or which does not seek the best interest of our women’s football, both in the short and long term. That happened with the Reggae Boyz. Let’s be careful not to repeat the mistakes.
Everything must be done to give our girls the best opportunity to excel. They have talent and they have spirit. The coaching team needs similarly to do what Technical Director Rene Simoes and Coach Carl Brown and their staff did for the Reggae Boyz — to also coach the development of heart, mind and will.
Unfortunately, a momentary lapse in the observance of two of the proven success keys — spirit and unity — caused the Boyz not to have done even better than they did in the 98 World Cup finals. Ah, yes, there’s an untold story of lessons that were learnt during that historic qualification.
We, as a nation, must give our Reggae Girlz the best chance to give their best performance. To do well at World Cup level means a lot of work, well within our ability, but our problem could be capacity, leadership, vision, and management at the JFF level.
We cannot afford to make the Reggae Girlz Road to France development process a “football politics” game. To ensure it rises above the fray, I suggest the JFF set up an independent committee of select individuals of a certain heart, mind and influence to guide the process and gain public support and funding.
Life often does not give you a second bite of the cherry; hence, every opportunity must be maximised. It is often said that: “An opportunity is only an opportunity in the lifetime of the opportunity.” JFF, do mi ah beg yuh, don’t muff it!
I am happy to see that our new-era prime minister, along with the Minister of Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange, has rightly and eagerly committed the Government’s full support to assist the process. However, I am sure they will be concerned and want to know that the most will be made of every dollar of our taxpayers’ money.
The transforming power of sport
We know what sport does to unite communities, stimulate economic activity, provide scholarship opportunities overseas for many, and teach values for character development. We are very aware of its health benefits to society and the balanced development of our children. Therefore sport ought not to be relegated to the back burner in a developing nation such as ours, particularly with all its problems. It should be well resourced alongside education. All the gifts and strengths of the nation should be harnessed and shaped at every level. If without any overall strategy we do so well with a few making a livelihood from sport, what could we do if we were intentional? Sport is an asset that must be intentionally developed in all areas and not left to the whims and fancies of a few only for personal gain.
Should we throw out the old?
For our Girlz to advance further many will clamour for external, international, top-level coaching experience for the best results. This may well be necessary, but it cannot be at any cost, in any way, with anybody; just because they are “international”. Let’s learn and be guided by the errors of the men’s programme.
Any help being considered must be exactly that; help, not take over, displace, and abandon those who laboured to bring us to where we are. The help should primarily be consultative impartation to strengthen and develop. Any help that does not have this attitude and approach must be rejected.
What Jamaica needs is help in the spirit and attitude of a good, experienced, father-type coach coming along to support the team to excellence. A self-absorbed, ambitious young gun coach, seeking to make a name for himself/herself on the international scene, is not want we need now. Jamaica has outgrown that kind of mindset. I hope our decision-makers understand that.
The level of defeat our girls suffered at the hands of the USA, the world champions, is an indication of the level of work that has to be done in a short time. This means that the support needed by the team from all sides has to come now and not a month or two before the finals begin. We must now build and develop our people’s ability to be and to function in a world-class manner and we have the good fortune of having the US team in our region, and also the number four team (Canada). Let’s work that to our advantage to improve our Girlz. The JFF has to be able to have them together in camp for concentrated work almost immediately along with quality friendly matches lined up.
Stop for a moment and ask what we are doing beyond the usual to develop our coaches and, more specifically a few selected coaches with the potential for international duties. Are we content to be always having to look overseas? We will have to if there is not a planned preparation strategy for our footballing future.
Be careful, those of you who will quickly jump and defend that we have a local men’s Head Coach in Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore — who I believe is doing a good job. Let us not deceive ourselves, I do not believe he is there because of a committed JFF philosophical position on development. He is there because we cannot afford a foreign coach at this time. If we could, many in the public and football leadership would have thrown him out on his ear, long time. If we had a philosophical development position we would be doing everything to place Tappa and a few more with the potential in an international environment for fast-track development.
The early JFF visionaries
Thank God for the bold late Captain Burrell and his then General Secretary Horace Reid — early visionaries willing to listen to counsel and step out beyond the ordinary. It paid off once before.
Let me share something they did that many may not know that’s relevant to this discussion. They took the advice from a few of us, quickly saw the benefits, and took immediate steps that enabled former national coach, Carl Brown, to spend, if I correctly recall, at least one year with English Premier League Club Bolton Wanderers. He will tell you it was a tremendous and useful experience that accelerated his development.
Sad that as a nation we have not subsequently capitalised upon what Brown learnt, although it is not too late. Current football leadership should consider this approach in building the future.
The Reggae Girlz qualification is further evidence of our proven potential as a nation for greatness and world-class exemplary leadership, when we can unite and build. The things that divide and destroy are not by any means insurmountable obstacles. We can conquer the economic challenges, We can defeat the social giants and external forces. We can resolve the infrastructure limitations, urban and rural, underdevelopment and the like. What the collective “we” cannot solve, which is our major downfall, is bad mind, tribal divisiveness, greed, selfishness and our celebrated Anancyism and crab-in-a-barrel mentality.
Only we can defeat ourselves. Aren’t you tired of being defeated by elements we each can control? Let’s all look at the man in the mirror; make the change; and transform self, family, community, and nation.
This is where Church and Government are to lead the way by example and then galvanise and motivate the citizens. This is absolutely necessary, because people are essentially followers; like good sheep they need to be led. Hence, the fate of our nation is determined by the quality of the leaders of Government, business, Church and civil society.
It is difficult to admit, and we may not even like the idea of it being so, but that’s how it is. If we look back at our history since Independence, our rise and fall, highs and lows, they are always according to our leadership. When they snooze, we all lose.
What are our intrinsic national strengths?
God intended a nation’s wealth to come from its natural endowments, gifts and abilities. The question is: Have we assessed and accepted what these are? Could sports be one of the areas where we have been missing it for years?
I am reminded of the question God asked Moses at the Red Sea in the midst of the new nation, Israel’s, plight. They feared collapse and destruction. The question came: “What is in your hand? Use it!” (Exodus 4:2).
Has the 2030 vision sufficiently wrestled with this question? We must revisit. The qualification of our women’s football team and the excellent run of our netballers are momentous opportunities given for us to galvanise our nation around and press towards building the new Jamaica. May we not allow it to pass. We missed it in 1998 with our Reggae Boyz.
Some may say that our Reggae Girlz World Cup qualification and our Sunshine Girls’ consistent excellence does not have the same excitement. But I believe they are enough to make them work for us. What’s in your hand?
Copyright © 2018 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.