WHAT IS happening in this MVP/Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce imbroglio? So much is being played out in the public space that hitherto, all the parties in this intriguing back and forth would prefer to remain behind closed doors. There is no history in that or any other local sporting camp for that matter, where certain issues deemed to be secret and delicate are laid bare. Matters, once sacrosanct, are now open to public scrutiny and comment. As time elapses and persons are denied what they might think is rightfully theirs, much more revelations can be expected.
The reports out of the Rio Olympics spoke to a cleavage in the relationship between the overpowering personality of Stephen Francis and FraserPryce, who, by a long way, is the world-renowned super coach’s most highly celebrated female charge. It has led to a parting of ways. In her quest for an unprecedented trio of Olympic 100m gold medals, her streak had been halted by a bronze medal finish in Rio. The athlete has now sought a refreshed career under the tutelage of greenhorn in the coaching business, Renaldo ‘Journalist’ Walcott. His camp at St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) was enriching itself with some talented athletes.
The plot gets thicker with a showdown of sorts looming, as the relevant parties are squaring off to protect their turf. FraserPryce has been reported as setting up a residential facility in the rural parish to avoid what would be a stressful daily commute. MVP President Bruce James, her manager and close ally, given his own utterances when the saga saw its first light, is maintaining his usual silence but saying enough to suggest that his role as adviser is alive and kicking. Coach Francis, not normally given to allowing departing athletes a chance to rethink, is in this case leaving at least a window open for that eventuality.
With this cementing of positions in progress, here comes the equipment sponsor, Nike, who has been aligned to FraserPryce since she hit the global spotlight. They are not newcomers to the scene as they are immersed in the financial backing of the MVP Group as well.
In an article penned by sports reporter Andre Lowe, and carried by this newspaper, the Nike position is captured by the headline, “Longtime sponsor blocks ShellyAnn’s MVP exit.” Lowe, lately a significant media figure on the track and field trail, quoting his sources, described the company as having threatened “to pull the plug on their multimillion-dollar deal”. Reference is made therein to Nike “initially giving their blessing to Fraser-Pryce’s move”. The sponsor is further reported to have “changed its position after Stephen Francis, MVP’s head coach and FraserPryce’s long-time conditioner, expressed his preference that she remains with the University of Technology-based outfit”.
Strangely enough, the focus is not on Nike and the moves in which the company engages itself to maintain its brand and market share.
More importantly, it cannot be over emphasised that what MVP with Nike in tow, is deemed to be doing here is far removed from regular MVP practice. These guys do not bow. They have been resolute in these situations and have shown no prior indication to genuflect to athletes seeking their fortunes elsewhere. So many of their elites have hit the highway with or without coercion. In fact, in some instances, there has been a semblance of a ‘good riddance’ attitude when the question of defection is raised. The likes of elite medallists and a multiple world record holder have exited their ranks. Melaine Walker, Sherone Simpson, Asafa Powell, Kaliese Spencer, Natasha Morrison and Michael Fraser have said goodbye for one reason or another.
Foster’s Fairplay remembers the California, USA-based Santa Monica Track Club, rippling with the best of the best athletes the country had to offer, the Carl Lewises and Leroy Burrells of the sport. Where is that outfit now? This must be weighing, with telling effect, on coach Francis’ mind. Can the group survive all this breaking in ranks? Is not the Fraser-Pryce farewell the proverbial last straw?
From what Nike is reported to have done in an attempt to halt this slide, it certainly would appear that way.