ANGELA WEISS via Getty Images
Cedella Marley (center) poses with members of the Jamaican women’s national soccer team after a World Cup tune-up match in May. Thanks largely to Marley’s financial support, Jamaica this summer became the first Caribbean nation to qualify for a Women’s World Cup.
Cedella Marley stood near the stadium tunnel at Stade des Alpes as the Jamaican women’s national team walked off the field. The daughter of legendary reggae singer Bob Marley and the main benefactor of Jamaica’s women’s national soccer team, Marley had watched from afar as her Reggae Girlz limped to a 3-0 loss to Brazil in their first-ever Women’s World Cup match.
Jamaica entered the tournament as the darlings of this tournament ― a women’s team that made it to France just a decade after the Jamaica Football Federation cut funding and disbanded the team, and just five summers after FIFA stopped considering it inactive.
Marley is a big reason reason why: The singer and businesswoman has poured her own money into the revival of Jamaica’s women’s national team and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars more to keep it alive, all with the vision of getting it here, to France and women’s soccer’s biggest stage.
But because of a paperwork mix-up, Marley didn’t have the proper credentials to enter the field with her team, so she greeted the Reggae Girlz from the other side. And as they left, Marley waited for her chance to meet a woman who has served as one of the sport’s pioneers in her own way.
“I wouldn’t leave the stadium until I saw her,” Marley recounted during an interview last week. “I wouldn’t leave.”
The gate swung open, and there she was: Marta, the legendary Brazilian soccer star.
“You!” Marta yelled. “You don’t stop!” Marta screamed, tears welling in her eyes as she raised Marley’s arm in the air. “You don’t stop!”
Marley never has. She first began helping the Reggae Girlz in 2014, six years after the Jamaican federation cut funding for the team. She didn’t quit when, two years later, the federation disbanded the team again, or during a 30-month period from 2015 to 2018 when the Reggae Girlz didn’t play a single international match.
Marley’s financial backing ― some on her own, and more through the Bob Marley Foundation ― has helped provide a base of support for the team, which has also raised money through Indiegogo campaigns and fundraising events. They have received money as well from Alessandra Lo Savio, co-founder of the Alacran Foundation, a philanthropic organization. Then, in January 2018, the nonprofit group called the Reggae Girlz Foundation launched with the mission to “improve the growth, development and access to quality football programs that enhance the physical, mental and personal development of girls in underserved communities across Jamaica.”
Those efforts have helped fill gaps, but not all of them: Head coach Hue Menzies is a volunteer. There have been transportation debacles. Coaches have made stops at Costco to buy coats for players so they didn’t freeze during games in chillier climates. Teams like the United States practice at posh facilities meant for top-notch professional athletes. Jamaica’s women have struggled to simply get together for training camp at all.
Still, it was enough to at least get here, which Jamaica did last fall by rebounding from a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of the United States to beat Panama in a nervy match that required penalty kicks to decide. It made them the first Caribbean nation ever to qualify for the Women’s World Cup.
Marley’s help has made her a star among the Reggae Girlz: After the loss to Brazil, the Jamaican women spent last week telling Marley that they needed her with them before their second game, against Italy. They wanted her to dance with them, to celebrate that they’re here.