The onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic led to sports coming to a standstill in March.  Since then quite a few have restarted. Horse racing restarted back in June. The first Test cricket match between the West Indies and England began in early July. The Jamaica synchro team started recruiting and training swimmers last month.

For some, however, the silence surrounding their immediate future is deafening.  And, in the meantime, athletes continue to suffer significant losses from a lack of opportunity.  As of now, volleyball is one of those sports.

Middle blocker for the Venus Volleyball Club, Rojey Hutchinson, is an athlete who finished university recently and was hoping to gain more from sports competitions right after.

Hutchinson graduated from the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica, in late 2019, and secured his diploma in mechanical engineering.

 He attended the university on a volleyball scholarship and has never forgotten that fact. “Volleyball got me where I am today. It gave me the opportunity to travel, experience different cultures, and gave me the opportunity to attend university on a volleyball scholarship,” Hutchinson explained.

 After completing his studies at UTech, Hutchinson looked forward to competing in the Venus International tournament that was scheduled to take place on March 20 – 22. However, due to the onset of the virus, the tournament was cancelled.

 The cancellation of the event that would have featured seven male and eight female teams— from Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, USA, and Jamaica, adversely affected Hutchinson. Admittedly, he looks forward to the tournament every year and knew he could have readily exploited the opportunities presented to him during this time since school was out of the way.

He explained, “the Venus International Tournament is something we as volleyballers look forward to every year. We get to meet people and see the way they play volleyball. The tournament is played at a higher level than what we are used to in Jamaica with our local teams.”

“It helps me to be more selective with my shots and it also helps me to be more disciplined on the court. We are playing against some of the top clubs in countries that are very good at volleyball and some of these guys played in the pro league and also on their national team.”

The volleyballer, who has been playing with the Venus Volleyball Club for five years, says he hasn’t been training and has “no idea when volleyball will resume.”

And neither does the Jamaica Volleyball Association (JaVA).

According to JaVA, they cannot say for sure when volleyball competitions will resume since they’re still having discussions with the Ministry of Sport.

 

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The decision by the University of Technology (UTech) not to renew the contracts of their sports coaches, citing challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, seems to have exposed ongoing tensions between the university’s Sports Director Orville Byfield and personnel running the school’s track programme including Head Track Coach Paul Francis.

Francis’ elder brother, MVP coach Stephen Francis, believes UTech’s decision not to renew the coaches’ contracts, among other things, creates the impression that Byfield is trying to destroy the university’s track programme.

Sportsmax.TV reported exclusively on Monday that UTech has not renewed the contracts of all its sports coaches, a move that Dr Kamilah Hylton, Dean of the Faculty of Sports and Science, described as a temporary measure.

“We have not made any final decision. We are waiting to hear from Intercol (Jamaica Intercollegiate Sports Association) and a directive from the Acting President (Professor Colin Gyles) in terms of how many students will be allowed on campus,” said Dr Hylton speaking with Sportsmax.TV on Monday night.

“We have to make decisions on how they (athletes) would train in a safe manner,” she said while explaining that training sessions would have to abide by established COVID-19 protocols, meaning athletes would have to train in smaller groups, adhere to the required physical distancing requirements and other related safety measures.

Among the coaches, whose contracts were not renewed were those of Francis and his elder brother Stephen. However, Stephen has continued to prepare some athletes from the MVP Track Club, which has an MOU with the university to use the school’s Papine campus as a training base.

It then begs the question: if MVP athletes are able to train why then would the university not allow the collegiate track athletes to do the same, especially since MVP, through negotiations had provided UTECH with funding for the programme from PUMA. Sources indicate that the funding amounts to about US$30,000.

Stephen was at pains to find an explanation.

“Discussions are being held at a higher level to sort out this situation so I don’t want to say anything which would compromise the whole thing but it does seem to be, on the face it, a very puzzling decision,” said Francis while speaking with Sportsmax.TV on Thursday morning at Stadium East in Kingston.

Asked to comment on whether there were underlying issues between the director of sports and MVP that could have influenced the decision to impact the sport that has brought tremendous success to the university, Francis said:

“As far as I know there is no problem between MVP and Byfield. The problem is between Byfield and the UTech track programme; in that, he is giving off signs that he doesn’t think that the programme should exist.

“Maybe he wants to be the coach, I don’t know what the reason is. He has not shown a tendency to be cooperative and even though it might sound improbable, a lot of people close to programme believe he is trying to destroy the programme.”

Byfield, a track coach who has worked with Kingston College, St. George's College and Hydel High, among other high schools, joined the staff at UTech around 2008 as a sports lecturer. He was appointed Director of Sports in October 2018 following the departure of Anthony Davis.

“I think there has been a lot of upheavals since Byfield became the Director of Sport. He doesn’t seem to have the role of a normal Director of Sport, which is to maximise the performance of the teams that the school puts out,” said Francis, who was reluctant to provide details of the afore-mentioned upheavals.

“Certainly in athletics, there are a lot of stumbling blocks that he puts in the way and I don’t think anybody can argue that he is trying to maximize the performance of the UTech student-athletes, certainly not in track, probably not in football, and based on the performance in most of the sports.

“So I don’t know what he thinks his job is and I don’t know what his job has been defined as but it is not what you would expect from a person in charge of collegiate sports programmes. It is what it is so we have to find a way to work around him and work around whatever it is that he is doing.”

In response, Byfield said Francis’ comments came as a surprise.

“I don’t know what he is talking about. This is news to me,” Byfield told Sportsmax.TV on Thursday afternoon. “Both of them (Paul and Stephen) work with the university. No concerns were raised to me. It’s the first I am hearing of this.”

He added that if the Francis brothers have any concerns they should take the matter to Human Resources and have those concerns addressed.

Speaking on KLAS Radio on Wednesday, the UTech sports director indicated that he did not unilaterally make the decision not to renew the contracts of the Francis brothers or the other coaches.

‘This was a collective decision from the university. Based on what is going on at the university at this point in time the university has decided to temporarily suspend the contracts, or not renew the contracts until the university can sort out how we are going to deal with everything for the academic year,” he said.

“The coaches will just have to be patient. We want to have our coaches here with us. Our coaches have been doing a good job for the university and we would love to continue to have them.

“These times are unprecedented so the university has to take certain precautions on how we manage and maintain certain things.”

Meanwhile, as it relates to the current situation, Francis said MVP will have to step in to help those track athletes who might be left out in the cold because the programme has been suspended.

“As it is now, if it happens that no change occurs it will not really stop anything because I guess MVP would have to take up UTech’s slack in trying to develop these athletes because UTech normally provides for them a place in school and also some accommodation for some of them,” Francis said.

“MVP would have to take up the slack in terms of making sure that the athletes who are supposed to come on board in September that they are not denied an opportunity because some of them would have decided to come to UTech even though they had opportunities abroad so it’s not fair for us not to honour their commitment.”

The UTech track programme has produced the like of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Sherone Simpson, Elaine Thompson, Tahjay Gayle, Jenieve Russell, Shericka Jackson and Asafa Powell, among others.

 

 

 

 

 

The contracts of all sports coaches, including head track coach Paul Francis and Stephen Francis, employed by the University of Technology (UTECH), have not been renewed for the coming academic year as the college moves to protect its staff and student population from possible COVID-19 infection.

The pandemic has forced the school to suspend its sports programmes until it decides how many students they will allow on campus for the academic year set to begin on August 26, 2020. 

Paul and Stephen Francis run the university’s track and field programme, and who under a Memorandum of Understanding with the university, also operate the MVP Track Club at the school’s Papine campus.

The university informed the coaches by letter on Monday, Sportsmax.TV understands.

However, the school said the move is temporary.

“We have not made any final decision. We are waiting to hear from Intercol (Jamaica Intercollegiate Sports Association) and a directive from the Acting President (Professor Colin Gyles) in terms of how many students will be allowed on campus,” said Kamilah Hylton, the Dean of the Faculty of Sports and Science while speaking with Sportsmax.TV on Monday night.

“We have to make decisions on how they (athletes) would train in a safe manner,” she said while explaining that the school will have to determine how athletes would function under existing COVID-19 protocols, meaning how many athletes would be able to train together, adhere to the required physical distancing requirements and other related safety measures.

Hylton explained that depending on the state of the pandemic some contracts could be renewed as early as the second school semester.

“Of paramount importance is the safety of the athletes. We have to ensure that we have the necessary resources to facilitate the safety of our student-athletes,” Ms Hylton said.

 Ms Hylton also confirmed that, so far, no new sports scholarships have been offered to student-athletes.

As it relates to students who are already on scholarship, Ms Hylton said the school would maintain its obligations to them and they would attend classes as usual.

“We are bound by contract, so those students would continue to be supported once they continue to meet academic criteria,” she said.

Among other measures being taken by the school is the limiting of the number of students allowed to share dorm rooms on the campus. For now, only one student will be allowed to a room. 

The college prides itself as being home to a number of Jamaica's world-class athletes.

Former 100m world-record holder Asafa Powell, Olympic medalists Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Sherone Simpson were all members of the UTECH track programme.

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