As the echoes of the Women's World Cup 2023 continue to resonate in Australia and New Zealand — with a record attendance of almost two million people having reportedly watched Spain eventually take home the trophy — of the 32 countries that competed on the global stage few success stories shine as brightly as that of the Jamaica women’s national football team, known globally as the “Reggae Girlz”. The players, who hail from the island nation of Jamaica and across its diaspora, etched their name into the archives of sports history as a trailblazing women’s football team with a performance that “illuminated” the tournament.
Considered one of the “underdogs” of the competition, prior to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, the team claimed they were disadvantaged by a lack of support from the Jamaica Football Federation. In a statement released to Instagram in June, they stated that they had been disappointed with “subpar planning, transportation, accommodations, training conditions, compensations” and much more. It prompted a reply from the Jamaica Football Federation who urged supporters to “focus on the achievements” before listing the teams’ various sponsors, including Adidas.
Yet, despite the reported setbacks, it was with their determination, talent, and unwavering spirit that they proved themselves to be more than deserving of their subsequent achievements. Jamaica made history with a first-ever World Cup win, after defeating Panama 1-0, before advancing in the competition as the first-ever Caribbean team to reach the knockout stage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup — men or women’s teams. The Reggae Girlz’ World Cup stint was described by Sky Sports pundits as a “watershed moment” and an “immense achievement for a group of talented, spirited players”.
Unbothered had the privilege to sit down with Reggae Girlz defender Vyan Sampson and reflect on the teams’ successes and pitfalls during the tournament, as well as the progress of women's football on a global scale. In this exclusive interview, Vyan Sampson opens up about her career journey, the challenges she's overcome, and her perspective on the recent Women's World Cup. From the sidelines to the centre of the action, Unbothered gained insight into the world of football through the eyes of a remarkable Jamaican athlete.
Unbothered: How would you sum up your overall experience at the 2023 Women’s World Cup and what were the highlights for you personally?
Vyan Sampson: It was a really life-affirming, career-affirming experience. It’s obviously a world stage but it’s the biggest stage in our game. We knew we didn’t wanna be one of those teams that just turned up so we were just really proud about what we were able to do.
How did the team prepare for the tournament? What do you think were the key factors that contributed to your success in just making it to the World Cup?
VS: As the world will know, we didn’t have the smoothest preparation leading into the tournament but one thing we always had is togetherness. We’re like sisters, and I think that translates from the outside looking in—we’re all really close and when we step out on that pitch we know we’re gonna give it our all for each other. So I think that was the biggest strength we had leading into this tournament and that’s what got us through a lot of our toughest moments.
What did it mean to you to represent Jamaica on an international stage such as the World Cup? And how did you manage the pressure and emotions associated with playing for your country?
VS: Honestly there’s never been pressure for me, playing for your country is an honour and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I just feel like I belong so there’s no other way than to just go out there and do your best.
What was it like returning home and how do you usually decompress after something so emotionally and physically demanding?
VS: [laughs] To be honest, usually I just come home and chill out with my family but coming back from this tournament was kind of difficult and uncomfortable because we were locked in for such a long time, we had such a regimented routine. Most people don’t know that from the moment you’re eliminated from the tournament, you're out of the country within 24 hours. We didn’t even know; we thought that we would get a couple of days to decompress as a group. We don’t know what everybody’s careers are gonna look like from that point…some people are stepping away from the game, some people are moving away, and everyone is in different phases of their career, of their lives, so we thought we were gonna have that time to take a moment as a team and let it sink in but that wasn’t the case…we got home at 11 pm from the game and some people had flights at 6 am.
Wow, that’s a lot.
It was very uncomfortable, we were locked in for such a long time together and then we were kind of like all thrown all over the world again. It took close to a week for me to feel normal again and it was exacerbated by the fact we had such a long journey to get home.
"...everybody knows who the Reggae Girlz are now. And everyone has seen what we’re capable of and they need to be aware that we’ve got so much good talent on home soil coming through and they need to be highlighted."
So what would you say are your hopes for the team’s future?
VS: So obviously now we’ve made it out of the group stage and I feel like that has to be the basis of our expectations from now on. That has to be the minimum. This time definitely was not luck but it was definitely harder than it needed to be because of our lack of support. So from this moment on, no team — and I’m talking about for years and years to come, [including] youth players and up — no team should have to experience such trouble leading into a major tournament. So for me, it just looks like better organisation and better support from our federation. As you can see we always have the support of the nation. We had such a good expat community in Australia; a dinner was put on for us when we were in Melbourne by the local Jamaicans. There are not many of them but, wherever we are people make an effort for us so if we’re being supported by the general public we need to be supported by our federation and they need to understand that we take this seriously and back that.
How do you think the team’s performance in the World Cup will affect the growth and popularity of Women’s football in Jamaica?
VS: Well from the sounds of it, everybody knows who the Reggae Girlz are now. And everyone has seen what we’re capable of and they need to be aware that we’ve got so much good talent on home soil coming through and they need to be highlighted. I want people to go out and watch the youth players—I believe the Under 17s have a game at Sabina Park—it’s just things like that. The impact is there but it needs to be accessible for the people of Jamaica.
Obviously, the Women’s World Cup sheds light on important issues like gender equality and representation. Do you believe that the tournament contributes to these larger conversations and what message do you hope to send through your participation?
VS: I feel like the tournament could be better in terms of acknowledging and representing all different groups of people. Of course, a lot goes into that, it’s a major tournament; they have to think about how they are viewed by the world, but I feel in terms of representation, bigger tournaments could do that better. With the reach the tournament had—equality—you can’t deny its importance. It’s not about it being marketable, it can’t be convenient, it can’t be just because it looks good. These are the things the organisation has to live by.
And lastly, I just wanted to know what you think makes a Jamaican athlete great. What is it about Jamaican athletes in particular that gives them a star quality, that resilience, that determination?
VS: I think they just live within their truth. They’re authentically themselves. If they wanna sing and dance they’re gonna sing and dance. If they wanna be quiet they’re gonna be quiet. If they wanna make a statement they’re gonna definitely make a statement. We’re a small island but we’ve got people everywhere. I think that’s what it is.