This summer, the Reggae Girlz of Jamaica made history when they became the first Caribbean team to play in the Women’s Word Cup. Though they failed to win a match in France, it still felt like women’s football in Jamaica was on the way up.
But less than three months later, that progress is in jeopardy because the Jamaican Football Federation has not paid the Reggae Girlz any of the money it has been contractually obligated to pay them since January.
On Monday, the players launched a “No Pay, No Play” campaign on social media, and announced that until the JFF pays them all of the money they are owed, the women will not be attending any training camps or competing in any events — including a crucial Olympic qualifying tournament at the end of this month.
“We’re willing to sacrifice that because enough is enough,” Nicole McClure, a goalkeeper on the team, told ThinkProgress in a phone call on Monday night. “The culture of this organization has been corrupt for years now. We’re sick of being taking advantage of.”
— Cheyna Matthews (@Cheynalee_) September 2, 2019
In May, the Reggae Girlz — excluding those who wanted to retain their NCAA eligibility by adhering to the standards of amateurism — signed a contract with the JFF. According to McClure, the contract included backpay dating back to January, and lasted until August 30, 2019. The payments were due on the 14th of each month.
At the very end of August, right before the contract expired, the JFF said it was wiring 50% of the money it owed to the players. Even if the promised 50% hits their bank accounts this week, players say it’s not enough to stop the boycott.
“It’s a slap in the face, it’s hush-hush money,” McClure said. “It’s just really disheartening. It’s messed up, because we were legally promised this. There’s no way to go around it.”
The players got most of the $50-per-day stipends they were owed during the duration of the World Cup in France, but that money was just to get them through the tournament. The monthly salaries were supposed to allow the players to live as professionals, and perhaps give them more time to train and practice in lieu of taking on second and third jobs.
“For me personally, I don’t get paid for my club team,” McClure said. “I was banking on the monthly stipend. Women footballers don’t get paid nearly enough to survive on their own. On average, we don’t get paid nearly as much as the last person on the men’s team.”
The JFF reportedly told the players that it hasn’t paid them because it hasn’t yet received the Women’s World Cup prize money from FIFA, the international governing body of football. However, McClure said that the contract did not tie monthly payments to FIFA prize money in any way.
FIFA should be paying attention to this dispute, however. FIFA announced it will expand the field from 24 teams to 32 teams at the 2023 Women’s World Cup and increase the prize money. But right now, FIFA does a horrible job holding federations accountable for treating women’s football programs properly in terms of development, resources, and payment.
The Reggae Girlz are a prime example of this. In 2008, after the team failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, the JFF disbanded the team. It wasn’t fully brought back to life until 2014, when Cedella Marley — the daughter of Jamaican music legend Bob Marley — became a benefactor for the team and helped it find sponsors and partners. But even then, the players and their families had to do a lot of personal fundraising in order to just make the trip to France happen. They said it was worth it, because they felt they were building something that future Jamaican women could benefit from, and winning institutional support along the way.
But those at the top aren’t keeping up with their end of the bargain.
“We created history, paved the path for future generations, without the JFF’s support,” McClure said. “It’s as if everything that we have done means absolutely nothing to them.”