Lay off Stephen Francis
Depending on who you talk to, Stephen Francis is either a genius who has come to put Jamaica's track and field on the map, and should be celebrated at every turn, or he is a selfish, arrogant, unpatriotic coach who couldn't care less about Jamaica's track and field, but is tunnel-visioned as far as MVP is concerned. Never in our history has there been any coach, in any field, who has had admirers and detractors in such huge numbers.
His decision to pull Elaine Thompson from the 100 metres at last week's national trials is still being debated, and, like the man himself, opinions seem to be split straight down the middle between those who like, or at least understand, the move, and those who feel that it was outright wrong.
Those who are against the decision to have her competing in only the 200m feel that the decision was partially to 'protect' Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce's legacy as the sprint queen in the 100 meters, or it was based strictly on business. There's much conjecture as to how having her compete in, and hopefully win, the 200m at the World Championships would work out better for MVP.
His detractors believe that here is another case where Stephen Francis was putting national interest aside for economic reasons. They feel that Elaine should double at the World Championships or, at the very least, should have been allowed to run in the 100m, which, at the moment, seems to be her better event.
Possible economic benefit
I am not sure how competing only in the 200m at the World Championships would be economically beneficial to Elaine Thompson and MVP. None of the prognostications I've heard along that line make any sense to me, but as I said to a caller on my radio show last week, if Stephen knows that there are economic benefits to be derived from his controversial decision, I can't blame him, even if he does it at the expense of national representation. That statement has virtually made me public enemy number one in certain quarters, but I'm sticking to my guns.
The public sees national representation as the ultimate honour for any sportsperson and that they must seek that above all else. I disagree. Athletes, like every other professional, are primarily in their 'job' because they are hoping to maximise their earnings, and that has to take precedence over any thrill they may get by representing their country.
Simply put, the pursuit of wealth is what humans are generally about, and sportspeople must not be seen as any different. Representing one's country, if we are thinking rationally, should never be pursued at the expense of economic gain.
I know lots of previous national players who are now struggling to make ends meet. No amount of backslapping and reminiscing about how great they were makes a difference to them now. All of them would give up the sporadic fame they enjoyed as national players for a steady income now. Gone are the days when merely wearing national colours was the objective of sports-people. Sports is a billion-dollar industry and the good athletes now want their share of the pie.
Money over everything
Training to be an elite athlete is not an easy thing. The hours are gruelling, the exercise routines often brutal. One has to put up with dictatorial coaches and at times unforgiving crowds who can heckle you when the results are not coming. One has to take on a new diet and live a lifestyle that is probably alien to character. The motivation for athletes while they are doing all that is not to don national colours for 'that ultimate honour'. The real reason why athletes do that is the hope that they will be good enough to be paid well enough. It's as simple as that.
National representation, in that sense, is overrated. It is a distant second as a priority. Spectators and onlookers want to see them perform for our country, because it gives us a sense of pride and the patriotic fervour is then at its highest when they do well, but the truth is that we are looking at it from a selfish perspective. We want what's best for us, not necessarily what's best for them.
None of this means athletes don't want to represent their country. Most of them do. There's a certain prestige that comes with being a national representative, but if they have to choose between national representation and participating in an arena where they earn big bucks, that's an easy choice to make. If Elaine somehow will benefit financially down the road, then Stephen did the right thing.
- Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.