Opportunities aplenty as a result of Girlz success

Saturday, October 20, 2018

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It can't be said too often: The Reggae Girlz achievement, in qualifying for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup, must be a launching pad, not an end in itself.

Crucially, the errors that were made in the aftermath of the Reggae Boyz qualification for the men's World Cup in France 1998 must be avoided.

After France '98, the leaders of Jamaica's football neglected the obvious need for development programmes to ensure sustainable growth.

Instead, they mostly focused on the desired end, which was seen as qualification to a FIFA World Cup every four years. There was never enough attention paid to the required development process.

So Jamaica's men's football had cycles of overseas coaches being employed at great cost, and overseas-based players — some never having set foot in Jamaica previously — being assembled all with one aim in view: Get Jamaica to the next World Cup.

Parallel to all that, Jamaica's club league remained semi-pro, at best; infrastructure, including playing surfaces, remained mostly deplorable; and the country continued to rely on high schools to nurture young talent.

So, for 20 years, Jamaica's men's football has remained oblivious to the cautionary note struck by then Technical Director Mr Rene Simoes that qualification to France amounted to an outrageous miracle. The way Mr Simoes put it at the time, Jamaica's achievement was tantamount to a builder roofing a house without first building the foundation.

Therein is the great irony. For by qualifying ahead of other Concacaf nations, such as Mexico and Costa Rica, which have invested far more in women's football, Jamaica has again defied logic.

We dare not forget that just a few years ago Jamaica's national women's football programme had all but collapsed. That it was resurrected was in no small measure the result of the helping hand of Ms Cedella Marley, the Marley Foundation, and others.

As it is now, the women's club league is underfunded and amateur in nature and the schools' competition run by the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) has no title sponsor.

As we said in this space yesterday, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) now finds itself in a great position to garner support from all around in preparing the Reggae Girlz for France next year.

Hopefully, that resource support will help to bridge the gap between the Reggae Girlz and the global powerhouses. That gap was ruthlessly shown up by number one ranked United States in the qualifying tournament.

As Assistant Coach Mr Andrew Price has pointed out, there will be need for training camps and practice games for the Reggae Girlz against high-quality opposition prior to France.

But it goes much further than that. The opportunity is now there to strengthen and broaden the base of football for women and girls, not just by way of additional resources — much of which we expect to come from an enthused business sector — but also in mass participation.

This is a wonderful time for women's football in Jamaica. Need we say it? Positive spin-offs for men's football can also flow.

The JFF must not let the opportunities slip.

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