Marley's crusade brings hope to Girlz, lifts spirits
BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic - The expectation is palpable and the spirits are high as the Jamaica senior women's team re-enters competitive action for the first time in six years.
Today, the Reggae Girlz, buoyed by their extensive pre-tournament preparation, battle St Lucia in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) qualifier at the Estadio Panamericano in San Cristobal, before facing the hosts Dominican Republic on Sunday.
After the senior women were eliminated at the final stage of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) made a choice, said to be brought on by lack of financial resources.
The senior women's programme was put aside and focus was placed on the youth teams.
Fast track a few years and the senior programme is out of the doldrums as various entities have marched forward to offer assistance.
Cedella Marley, the recently announced Women's Football global ambassador, and the Bob Marley Foundation are the team's main sponsors.
Marley, who resides in Florida, United States, is currently in the Dominican Republic to support the Reggae Girlz. She was welcomed warmly when she visited the players at their hotel on Wednesday. Declaring that she has been an avid supporter of the Reggae Boyz, she sat with the Jamaica Observer in balmy temperatures here yesterday and described the involvement with the women's team as an affair of the heart.
"It's a love story," she said before letting out an infectious laugh.
"I had just planned to make a little donation and call it a day. I wasn't thinking I was going to get the task of doing what I'm doing right now, but I embrace it."
And how badly the Reggae Girlz needed to be embraced. Praises have been streaming in on the back of the Marley's integral role in the programme's revival.
"It's a wonderful feeling because over the years this is the support that we have been seeking. God has opened the door and our ambassador Cedella Marley and the Bob Marley Foundation responded to our needs and the girls are so appreciative," said a beaming team manager Elaine Walker-Brown.
"In 2009, when we had the Under-17 and Under-20 CONCACAF qualifying tournaments we were in a difficult financial situation as a federation.
"The board of directors of the JFF took a decision that we would be unable to participate in the CFU senior programme because of lack of financial resources," Walker-Brown added.
The situation looked gloomy until recent developments. Now many Reggae Girlz admirers wonder what prompted the influential Marley support wheel into action.
As luck would have it, Marley had been handed a promotional pamphlet coming from individuals based in the southern US state, who support the Reggae Girlz's cause.
"My 10-year-old son is the one who brought it to my attention, just by bringing home a little flyer that he got at school. I didn't even know we had a women's programme, much less to be getting ready to go and do what we are doing now.
"When the Captain (JFF president Horace Burrell] decided to bring back this programme at this time, for whatever reason, it was just perfect timing," the Women's Football ambassador reasoned.
The Lavern Deer-led South Florida-based Jamaica International Female Football Development (JIFFD) has been an active campaigner and facilitator of Jamaica's women's programme.
Meanwhile, the Jamaica team manager said the two-week training camp in Florida -- made possible through funding organised by Marley -- ahead of the CFU qualifiers, provides the ideal platform for success.
"When it comes to the support from the Bob Marley Foundation and our ambassador, I can't put the direct figures. But I can tell you that a lot of the needs of the players have been met.
"The camp in Florida from June 2-16 prove that they are in it for the long haul. Because of the support that the girls are getting, Jamaica can expect to see great things from women's football in the near future," added Walker-Brown.
The positivity was echoed by Marley, who revealed that her brothers Damian and Stephen have contributed to a soundtrack dedicated to the Reggae Girlz and their movement.
"With the team we have, with the trainers they have in place and the people surrounding them, I think we have a great chance of building the programme, and not just for the senior programme, but the women's programme in general," she said.