Usain Bolt with coach Glen Mills; and right, Stephen Francis & Asafa Powell.
MVP-Racers rift widens
By Orville Higgins
The Jamiacan Gleaner
Friday September 30, 2011
Is there something brewing between MVP and Racers, the top two track-and-field clubs in Jamaica?
It is a fact that the two senior coaches of those two clubs, Stephen Francis and Glen Mills, have had a less-than-cordial relationship in the last few years. The reasons behind this strain in the relationship between Jamaica's two most decorated track coaches differ, based on who you talk to, but there is no doubt that the two former friends are not likely to be on each other's Christmas list.
This frosty relationship doesn't necessarily reflect itself among the elite athletes of both groups. That, however, is not necessarily true of the younger recruits. I have spoken to athletes from both sides, and they concur that clubbites from one side do not tend to socialise with athletes from the other.
All of this low-key tension between the two clubs was known to the track and field diehards, but the public, at large, got an inkling into the acrimony that exists between the two sides when MVP sent out a tersely worded release to the media on Wednesday. Since May, no fewer than half a dozen athletes from MVP have switched allegiance and are now conditioned by Mills of Racers. All this naturally set tongues wagging. Speculation was rife as to what could be behind this mass exodus.
MVP's release Wednesday stated, in part, that: " ... Some of our former athletes have advised us that the other track club pays them cash monthly, in addition to providing them with accommodation in apartments off campus, among other enticements."
MVP clearly thinks that only cash could make any athlete go elsewhere, and the release spelt out a long list of things that MVP provides for its athletes. The question was asked in the release, "So why would any up-and-coming student/athlete leave such an arrangement?"
The question was both rhetorical and sarcastic. Note how the MVP president said "the other track club" when referring to Racers. Not referring to Racers by name is a dead giveaway that the two clubs have simmering tension. My sources at Racers, however, gave a different perspective. Based on what I was told, it wasn't money that sparked the defection from MVP. It was a combination of different things, chief among them an intolerance for Francis, who they claim "must have lost his calling and was more suited to being an army drill instructor than a track and field coach".
My source went on: "The style of Stephen is one reason (behind the athletes leaving), but different athletes also had their own individual reasons. One of those athletes that left decided to move on after they wanted him to run while the athlete was injured. Some of them left because they just were not happy with their progress over the past season. And in one case, one athlete had a bad injury and was not happy with how the club dealt with it."
None of that, I must add, was I able to confirm with the MVP. My calls to my contact in the MVP went unanswered yesterday morning, when this article was submitted. I asked my source about the accusation of Racers bribing MVP athletes with cash, a claim which Mills rubbished in a statement issued last night. My source's response was that unlike MVP, Racers doesn't have ready accommodation for their athletes the way MVP has UTech. So, yes, it is true that one or two of the athletes that come to Racers are assisted financially with things like accommodation, plus all the needs that athletes have. It's not a case of Racers paying them, it's a question of them being assisted financially.
From my perspective, what is at play here is nothing more than the jostling that takes place in other professional set-ups. The greater the level of success for these clubs at the international level, the greater the likelihood for there to be conflict, as they compete for the best recruits.
Not all conflicts, however, are unhealthy. If the process is managed properly, it's all for the good of the athletes and, ultimately, the country. If managed badly, however, the friction between Racers and MVP could get ugly. My hope is that good sense will prevail.
Orville Higgins is a sportscaster.