Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Editorial | Beyond sentiment in Fraser-Pryce/Francis split

Published:Monday | August 29, 2016 | 8:00 AM

We expect that there will be more than a fair bit of mawkish simpering in Jamaica over the disclosure that Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, formerly the world's pre-eminent female sprinter, is leaving her MVP track club and her long-time coach, Stephen Francis. But while the sentimentality is understandable, it clouds something far more profound than is revealed by this development: the increasing professionalisation of Jamaican athletics and the economic opportunities that lay therein.

As this newspaper has highlighted, Mr Francis is perhaps the world's best athletics coach, or something close to that, with the record to prove it - including Mrs Fraser-Pryce. Since high school, Mrs Fraser-Pryce, 30, has had no other official coach.

Under Mr Francis' guidance, she was twice the Olympics champion at the 100 metres as well as having won the event three times at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships. She was also once the IAAF's 200 metres World champion. At the recently concluded Rio Olympics, Mrs Fraser-Pryce, who has carried a toe injury for much of the past year, gained the bronze medal in the 100 metres, while another Stephen Francis' prodigy, Elaine Thompson, won gold in the 100 and 200 metres.

It was at Rio that it emerged that Mrs Fraser-Pryce and Mr Francis are parting company after nearly a decade.

What is significant about this is the seeming absence of acrimony or ill-tempered dramatics with which the events have unfolded. Its handling, at least in public, has been more akin to a corporate disengagement; as when parties to an agreement determine that it is no longer working to their mutual interest and exercise the escape clause.

Mrs Fraser-Pryce has not spoken publicly about the development, but Mr Francis, in confirming her departure, told this newspaper: "... Looking to the future, I think she has every right to assess what is good for her. Staying with me as her coach (on her assessment) was not the best thing for her and she told me she was going to leave."

 

CORPORATIST APPROACH

 

Whatever anyone may think of Mrs Fraser-Pryce's decision, it is hers to make, based on her own interest. And clearly, she has come to the conclusion that Mr Francis, for whatever reason, can take her no further. Indeed, in the corporate environment when CEOs are determined to have reached their limits with firms, or are incapable of turning around poor-performing ones, they are likely to be fired by their directors. Similarly, boards are fired by shareholders.

It is this corporatist approach to the management of track and field that Mr Francis, who has had a reputation for straightforwardness and stridency, seems to have accepted, which is as it should be, especially in the context of how Mr Francis operates. Indeed, as a principal of MVP, he has been a pioneer in the professionalisation of Jamaican athletics. Not only does he coach, but the club has acted as agent/mentor for athletes. Others have since followed.

The lager point here is that Jamaica is a global power in track athletics, with several talented coaches who have leveraged their skills to growing enterprises like MVP and Glen Mills' Racers Track Club. Their potential markets are beyond Jamaica - the entire world. And in their serious business, while good manners and decency remains important, there is little room for maudlin sentimentality, as Mrs Fraser-Pryce and Mr Francis have shown.