Last fall, when Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz qualified for their first ever World Cup, there was jubilation on the pitch and excitement in the air. But one big question hung over the proceedings: what kind of support would the team get from their Federation?
The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), after all, has some history here. The team has only made it this far thanks to outside support, most notably from Cedella Marley and the Bob Marley Foundation, whose sponsorship of the program helped revive them after an effective death in the first half of the decade. Even at World Cup qualifying, the team had little chance to train together, and were dependent on support (such as it was) from the CONCACAF staff to manage travel and training gear.
The hope was that JFF would step up to support the team after it had qualified. And there has been some positive evidence. Jamaica has scheduled friendlies, something that is obviously critical for a team trying to prepare themselves to face the best in the world. But it’s also a testament to just how ignored they have been that merely scheduling some friendlies amounts to progress.
And there is more going on behind the scenes. As reported recently in The Gleaner, JFF and the team have recently been embroiled in an argument about contracts. Part of the argument stems from a disagreement over basic facts. According to JFF’s president Michael Ricketts, contract offers were distributed to the players. But according to the coaching staff, no such offers were made.
Head coach Hue Menzies, who has led the team on a purely volunteer basis, says that this situation was roiling the team, leaving many players in serious doubt about whether they could afford to commit to the World Cup for the summer.
Fortunately, contracts do appear to have been distributed to players and coaches alike in the last few days, settling the immediate dispute.
However, there are deeper issues at work here. Why was the communication so poor? Why was there an expectation of free service from the coaching staff, and external support from the Marley Foundation, for so long? And just how much is actually being made available?
Again, according to The Gleaner’s reporting, Ricketts has made clear that budgets are tight, saying “we can’t sign a contract if we can’t pay.” What is unclear, however, is just what ‘tight’ means in this context. As in many countries, the gulf of support between men and women’s teams is enormous. And it seems implausible that an organization like JFF lacks the funds to offer meaningful pay increases to their World Cup qualifying teams. Especially when one considers the increased payouts authorized by FIFA for all attendees this summer.
It is all too normal, however, for football federations to take prize money and never redistribute it to the players. Followers of the men’s game may remember a contract dispute that almost kept Ghana from playing in the 2014 World Cup, for example. Based on the current reporting, there seems to be serious concerns that this is happening in Jamaica’s case.
All of this happens in the context of broader international conversations about the state of the women’s game and fair compensation. The United States women recently filed suit against their federation for discrimination. The Denmark team recently struck to demand equal treatment, as did the Irish team. Brazil’s players have long fought for more support and recognition, as have many of their South American compatriots in Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia.
Across the board, it is common for women to not merely get paid less, but also to be housed in worse accommodations, to be provided with worse training resources, and to suffer the many indignities that come with being treated like an accessory rather than the main show.
There has been some progress. Norway has fought long for equality, finally resulting in a landmark deal for equal pay – a deal that still has not been able to coax Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg to rejoin the team, after her frustrations with unequal treatment. New Zealand were recently able to negotiate an equal pay deal as well.
But even these good examples are limited in scope. Equal pay to individual players is one thing. Genuine equality of treatment—equal marketing, equal grassroots development, equal commitment—is still a long ways away.
It looks like the JFF situation has been settled, and that’s a good thing. But this should be a reminder of just how far we have to go, and just how much of a burden is placed on these women who are obligated to not only perform as world-class athletes, but also to fight for their right to fair compensation in the process.