Last week it came to public attention that Shelly-Ann Frazer-Pryce was named Ambassador Special Envoy. The two-time Olympic and 2013 triple World Champion and her husband, Jason, were also issued diplomatic passports. It was an honour truly deserved for the young lady who just a few years ago, Jamaicans didn’t even want to be a member of Jamaica’s Olympic team to the 28th Olympiad in Beijing, China.
Few remember now the public outcry when Shelly finished second at the national championships behind Kerron Stewart to book her spot to the Olympics. Many of the same people who celebrate her successes now were the ones calling for the youngster to give up her spot to her more celebrated countrywoman Veronica Campbell-Brown, who they had more faith in to bring home a gold medal, Jamaica’s first in the 100 metres. This notwithstanding the latter finishing fourth at the national championships.
One can imagine how that must have hurt the youngster still fresh from her days at Wolmer’s High School for Girls and who had already been ridiculed as an alternate at the World Championships in Osaka the year before. The members of the JAAA must be thanking their lucky stars that they did not yield to public opinion at the time based on what SAFP has gone on to accomplish on and off the track.
There are those who are wondering why Campbell-Brown was not given a similar honour seeing that she has been around a lot longer than SAFP and has accomplished just as much, more, if you add what she accomplished in her career as a junior athlete. But what Fraser-Pryce has done better than her more senior compatriot is that she has made herself into a brand that is growing in value.
Now this is not to pit the women against each other. This is just a look at the key difference between the two. The main reason I believe Shelly is now an ambassador and Veronica Campbell-Brown is not.
Both women have emerged from poor backgrounds. Both are two-time Olympic champions. VCB is also World 100m and 200m champion. Fraser-Pryce is two-time World 100m champion and a 200m champion so their records are basically equal. Off the track, the similarities are also stark. Both women have foundations that give back to their communities and they have each done a lot. VCB is the first female athlete to be named UNESCO Champion for Sport. Shelly is Jamaica’s first UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador. Both have also had drug-related troubles.
But that is where the similarities end. The key difference is that Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce has done a better job keeping herself in the public’s eye and her deeds are told by all and sundry. For all the good work she has done VCB’s work has, by comparison, gone unheralded.
Fraser-Pryce has partnered with corporates like Digicel and Grace Kennedy and have leveraged those partnerships so that she has been able to award scholarships and media training sessions to high school athletes. She recently donated a million Jamaican dollars (about US$10,000) to her primary school. She has also launched a football competition in the Waterhouse community that has been named after her.
Meantime, she has worked on her public speaking skills and has ingratiated herself with the Jamaican people and the world of track and field by constantly presenting a smiling face and having the world see her as a happy, witty and sometimes mischievous young woman enjoying the fruits of her labours.
She has even been called at to speak at ceremonies and functions as a motivational speaker. I am told she is the most requested female athlete for interviews on the international circuit and it has allowed her to make her way into living rooms across the world. The Pocket Rocket is also very active on social media platforms posting pictures of her work with UNICEF, of her on trips to Hope Zoo, at a shop buying ‘bag juice’, working with the National Road Safety programme, even collecting her diplomatic passport last week.
I daresay, she is even more popular across the world now than most, if not all, the USA’s female stars. Shelly is so much a star that even fellow athletes are fans. She is becoming the female Usain Bolt of track and field.
On the other hand VCB has always preferred to remain behind the scenes, almost detached from the world that reveres her, maintaining that mystique that has served her well but has also hurt her. She exudes a kind of regal-like grace that have Jamaicans seeing her as royalty, track royalty. There is no doubt that she is revered and respected. Notwithstanding her recent drug-related troubles, she still remains the epitome of integrity in the sport. It is perhaps why Adidas did not abandon her during her period of tribulation last year.
The trouble is that VCB is only thought of when she competes whereas the public sees and hears from Fraser-Pryce a lot more and is perhaps why Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller put forward the suggestion earlier this year that the little woman from Waterhouse be made an ambassador and why it became reality in May this year. Last week’s ceremony was just to formalize the appointment.
Building a brand is what takes care of an athlete long after they retire and SAFP has done a better job at becoming a brand than her celebrated countrywoman and as such has reaped the benefits – like she has on the track – at a much faster rate.