Jamaica, with their 2023 World Cup refusing to play, stumble at W Gold Cup’s first qualifying hurdle

October 26 – Jamaica’s womens team, without a single player from their stand-out 2023 World Cup squad, lost their first 2024 W Gold Cup qualifier 2-1 away to Panama at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City.

For the Jamaican federation and its increasingly controversial president Michael Ricketts the result and its implications point to an abject failure of their duty to their football community, their women’s team, and ultimately to the regional governing body and its women’s competition programme.

For a long time, with the scores tied at 1-1 after Jamaica took an early lead, it looked as they would hold on to a draw, but it wasn’t to be. The spotlight on the JFF’s embarrassment was not to be saved.

Panama substitute Lineth Cedeno scored in the 84th minute to give Panama to a 2-1 win and put them top of Group B in League A of the Nations League with six points and one more game to play – Jamaica away in November.

For the Jamaicans, they must now win their next three games to automatically qualify for the inaugural 12-team W Gold Cup that will see eight teams from Concacaf join with four from Conmebol in southern California in February and March 2024.

The top three teams in  League A’s three groups go straight through to the finals, with the second placed teams earning a play-off with a League B group winner. Jamaica currently aren’t even in a play-off slot.

Jamaica’s women are the most successful team on the international stage in Caribbean football history, having qualified for two consecutive World Cups, the only Caribbean nation to ever have done so. In 2022 they came third in the Concacaf W Championship.

At the Women’s World Cup this summer in Australia/New Zealand the Reggae Girlz made the last 16 before losing to Colombia by a goal. Less than two months later they were competing in the Concacaf play-off for a slot at the 2024 Olympics, ultimately losing the two-legged tie to Canada 4-1 on aggregate. Now they sit bottom of their group in W Gold Cup qualifying.

They are a proven force competing at the highest international level – if their leading players will turn out for them.

Days before the Panama qualifier the players from the Jamaican 2023 World Cup team said they are withdrawing from two upcoming W Gold Cup qualifiers because of “constant mistreatment” by their federation and incomplete payment of World Cup bonuses.

Non-payment and under-funding of the women’s team has been a defining hallmark of Ricketts reign as JFF president.Jamaica’s women have had to frequently to self fund or rely on the generosity of philanthropists like Cedilla Marley, even when qualified for World Cup finals.

Not even FIFA’s much vaunted increased prize money and centrally funded player fees have made their way to the Jamaican women.

In a statement on Saturday team members said they have still not received “full and correct” payment for their World Cup performance or bonuses for qualifying for that tournament.

“While this has been one of the hardest decisions we have had to make, we feel it is necessary to take such a drastic stance to put an end to the constant mistreatment we receive from the Jamaica Football Federation,” read the statement.

But the Reggae Girlz say their dispute is not just about money. The players accuse their federation of poor communication, complaining they had only learned the identity of their new coach three days before they were due to report to camp, and then only via social media.

“We have dealt with this lack of communication, poor organization, poor management and delayed payments from the JFF time and time again. For these reasons, we take our stance in solidarity with hope to end this cycle of mistreatment.”

Concacaf kept the game scheduled and Jamaica turned up with an 18-player squad cobbled together from domestic and US college players by new coach Xavier Gilbert. Concacaf appear to be picking up the bills.

Jamaica now return home for their second group game against Guatemala where only a win will keep them in contention for automatic qualification. Guatemala shared wins with Panama in the first two group matches.

Shorn of their stars Jamaica for the second game – including standout striker are Kadeja Shaw – Jamaica’s federation appear to be playing a game of chicken with its leading women’s players. So far it is backfiring on them.

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