What is the connection between Bob Marley, his daughter Cedella, Pele and Usain Bolt? It may sound like the start of a joke, but all of them are related to the rescue of the Jamaican women’s football team.
The ties of Pele and Usain Bolt to football are well known. One is considered by many as the greatest football player of all time, and the other is a famous enthusiast of the beautiful game. The connection of Pele and Bolt to the Marley family was a vital part of the fact that the women's national team of Jamaica is even operating and can participate in the current World Cup in France. Bob Marley, probably Jamaica's greatest culture hero, was a well-known fan of football, a supporter of Santos and an admirer of Pele. From time to time, it was even reported that if not reggae, he would consider a career in football. Therefore, it might not be surprising that Pele was willing to help the Jamaican national team to rescue it after Cedella Marley approached him. But how did the Jamaican team got to this situation anyway?
Jamaica's women national football team began to play in 1987 and almost qualified for the 2007 World Cup. However, in 2010 and as a result of not having enough funding to continue its operation, the Jamaica Football Federation dissolved the team. This hard situation led the team to not even be ranked in the FIFA Women's World Rankings in 2011.
However, in April 2014, Cedella Marley agreed to become an ambassador of the team, in order to help the Reggae Girlz to raise money. In an interview shortly after she was nominated for the role, Marley stated that the reason she accepted to help the team is that although the team receives neither funding from the Jamaican federation nor attention from the public they were ranked 4th at CONCACAF rankings. She wanted the team to receive a fair chance to compete. "You kind of have to think to yourself," said Marley, "like, if you're at No. 4 in the region without anyone backing you, imagine if you had the proper infrastructure, proper housing, proper training, proper nutrition — all the things that every single club who I know is a contender for the World Cup has. It's almost like they don't have a fair chance without all of those things."
Marley didn't hesitate to point her finger towards the responsible people in Jamaica and to relate the situation of the team to the situation of women in general: "It's not like the Jamaica Football Federation doesn't get funding. They do. They've just been concentrating on the men's program. So the girls have always been left to fend for themselves. But as women, we're used to doing that. Nothing new."
With her family heritage and the help of some of her brothers, including Grammy Award winner Damian Marley, Cedella managed to create almost a national campaign, involving many of Jamaica's culture heroes and symbols. For example, the options to donate money to the team included various gifts. You could download of the football team's official song, "Strike Hard", as recorded by the Marleys for just $5, up to $1,000 for a Bob Marley T-shirt signed by Usain Bolt, which was Pele's way to donate to the team, and even a five-night cruise from Miami to Jamaica with Damian Marley on his yacht for $3,000.
The crowdfunding campaign emphasized the importance football has over the life of young girls in Jamaica, and eventually, it raised $155,735, which helped the team for its operation. Maybe more important, it raised awareness of the team's importance for Jamaican sport.
Nowadays, Jamaica finished in the last place in group C of 2019 Women's World Cup and got eliminated from the tournament. However, with the public support it gained and not less important, the rise to stardom of Khadija Shaw, The Guardian's Female Footballer of the Year for 2018, it seems that finally and hopefully the first Caribbean team to qualify to the World Cup starts to catch fire.