- Kayon Davis will be covering Jamaica's Women's World Cup debut for FIFA Digital
- She is a former national team player and women's football pioneer in the country
- Davis: "The Reggae Girlz’s presence serves as a beacon of hope, encouragement and empowerment"
For the first time at a FIFA Women’s World Cup™, FIFA’s coverage of France 2019 will be spearheaded by 24 Team Digital Content Producers, offering expert insight and exclusive behind-the-scenes content on each of the participating sides.
Between now and the big kick-off, some of these Team Reporters will be sharing their stories and expectations for the upcoming showpiece. First up is Kayon Davis, a former Jamaica international who will be following the Reggae Girlz in their debut Women’s World Cup.
Ever since the inception of organised women’s football in Jamaica over 50 years ago, female players in my country have struggled under the burdens of limited resources, discrimination and misconceptions. As a former footballer, I experienced these challenges first-hand - both on and off the field.
Unlike most footballers, I began playing football quite late in life, when I was just on the cusp of adulthood. I’d grown up playing with my neighbourhood friends in Rocky Park but it wasn’t until I was about 17 that my local team, Harbour View Football Club, introduced a female side. This was my first experience of playing organised football with other women and, initially, we got some support and recognition because women’s football was a novelty at the time. But before long that novelty wore off, and so did the support.
I wasn’t daunted or put off, perhaps because by this point I had been invited to the senior national team. But when that turned out to be an underwhelming event - a squad game essentially - I was left to wonder what would come next. And for a while, nothing did.
It was then, back in 1998, that I came up with the idea of having a high school girls' league. I approached the Jamaica Women’s Football Association (JWFA) president, Elaine Walker-Brown, who was receptive to the idea. The Insports High School League was born. It started out with only eight teams and my high school, Merl Grove High, was one of them.
Two of our teachers committed to coach the team but soon deserted us because they thought we weren't good enough. Our principal strongly felt that girls had no place playing football and, had she found out the teachers had left, she would have pulled us from the league. That never happened because as the captain I stepped up, coached the team and managed its affairs without anyone from the school’s administration noticing. I eventually led them to third place and received the league’s top defender award.
My first international club game followed soon after and I was also selected for the national U-23 side - the first official Reggae Girlz camp since Jamaica’s international debut in 1991. But there was no growth at national level, so many players either retired from football or sought opportunities elsewhere.
Fortunately for me, I received a soccer scholarship to the US. At that time, it was every female footballer’s dream to play at a US University, before moving on to the professional league (WUSA). But by the end of my senior year in university that league had folded.
Nonetheless, that soccer scholarship provided me with an education, the opportunity to play at a high level of competition, and the resources and tools I needed to empower myself in life. I went on to become an administrator, managed Los Perfectos women’s team and became Jamaica's first female TV football analyst.
Big stage beckons
Now I am heading to France to cover Jamaica's historic debut appearance. And when I think back to that Merl Grove school team, I see parallels with the team I will be reporting on. The Reggae Girlz too are underdogs who have had to overcome the hurdles of limited resources and support. But they have that same desire to do well and establish themselves.
Jamaica is not a major footballing nation, but reaching this Women’s World Cup gives us hope of becoming one. It indicates that our status is changing and that we have something to build on. This World Cup, I believe, is merely the beginning.
And one thing is clear: the Reggae Girlz are no ordinary team. They have already defied the odds by qualifying and our star striker, Khadija Shaw, scored more goals (19) than any other player from the 144 participating nations in the France 2019 preliminaries.
I can't begin to express how significant this tournament is for women and girls in Jamaica and the wider region. With the exposure earned by becoming the first Caribbean country to compete will come increased interest and popularity, which in turn brings greater opportunities, increased participation and grows the game. We have already begun to see the evidence of this, with several of Jamaica’s players signing professional contracts and endorsement deals this year.
The Reggae Girlz’s presence at France 2019 serves as a beacon of hope, encouragement and empowerment for females in all developing countries. It also fulfils the dreams of all Jamaican female players past and present - myself included - and shows that the hard work and dedication we have put in over the years has finally borne fruit. The FIFA Women’s World Cup will be the harvest.