Acknowledging J’can women in sport and their global impact
Any global feature on women in sport will showcase the work of a Jamaican. The key areas of success include women who have done well on and off the field of play.
Track and field, football, cricket, basketball, swimming and netball are just some of the disciplines where excellence has been consistently highlighted. This is exhibited in leadership in the boardroom alongside performances on the field of play.
For the last five decades, a Jamaican woman has held leadership roles in sport in the Americas, impacting on global spaces. But it was Molly Rhone, OJ, in 2003, who tipped the scale to become the first Jamaican woman to sit as president of International Netball for 16 years.
There is evidence that suggests that Isis Clarke-Reid is Jamaica’s first professional track and field star. She won a bronze medal as part of a relay team at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1938. She went on to do so much more on the track. She died at age 100 in June 2020.
We know if she was the trailblazer in track and field, we now see how that has turned out. The women have continued to “run the world”. We can always click on any search engine and type “Jamaican women in sport” and it would have multiple pages to read. We salute our women.
Before I move to 2000, I have to mention Esperanza Forbes. In 1982 Forbes was given her credentials as the first-ever female referee for football. She qualified to referee in all levels of football. In 1985, she was awarded a medal of honour for her “work”. Further research revealed that Forbes was not only the first female referee in Jamaica, but in the entire American continent and rumoured, at the time, to be only the third worldwide.
With the game shifting to more commercial models for sport, women were now seeking to be celebrated, achieve equality in pay, sponsorship and visibility. The international headlines were consistently dominated with who got paid more; who had more visibility and it essentially became a numbers game. Women have held their own and globally, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and the US Women’s Football Team took up a lot of that space. Becky Hammon became head coach of the San Antonio Spurs (NBA Team) in 2020, the same year Kim Ng became general manager of the Miami Marlins (Baseball).
Back here in Jamaica and the region, more women got involved in executive teams for sport, but very few outside of the boxes. The women essentially provided support as physiotherapists, team managers, agents, attorneys; but remained in female-dominated sport.
Marva Bernard was head of Americas Netball during this period. She left office last year (2022); Karen Anderson is head of Jamaica Squash; Jackie Cowan made it as the first-ever woman vice-president of the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA), she is also president of Jamaica Volleyball; while Marie Tavares became the first-ever general secretary of the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA).
2023 and beyond
There has to be a place in the Jamaican sport industry that dissects the value of women not just in leadership, but in economic terms. The aspirational and inspirational sides, while good for the psyche of a nation, can only ring true when the real values are measured. We have to create that legacy for the next generation.
Congratulations to the Reggae Girlz for reaching two World Cups in the last decade. That is an incredible achievement.
The Sunshine Girls will go after the number one spot in Cape Town for the World Cup Netball this summer; while women will form the bulk of the team at the World Championships in Athletics in Budapest.
Only recently we lost a champion, Simone Edwards, first Jamaican WNBA star.
Let’s tally that value.
Let’s get more women in the game.
Let’s transform the game.
Hail to the women who were before us, hail to the women who will join us.
Editor’s note: Carole Beckford is a sport marketer and author with over three decades of work in sport.