How to improve the SPOTY award…and who should win

One way one can tell the sporting year is coming to an end is that it is time for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award (hitherto to be written as SPOTY). The ten nominations for 2014’s award – to be announced in Glasgow tomorrow – are Rory Mcllroy (Golf), Jo Pavey (athletics), Lewis Hamilton (Formula 1), Gareth Bale (football), Carl Froch (Boxing), Lizzy Yarnold (Skeleton), Adam Peaty (Swimming), Max Whitlock (Gymnastics), Charlotte Dujardin (Dressage) and Kelly Gallagher/Charlotte Evans* (Paralympic Skiing).
And that is my main beef with the award. The fact that although it is decided by a public vote the public is restricted to choosing from the list of ten above. The nominations cause controversy every year and this year is no exception. Scots are unhappy that no Scot was nominated, rugby union fans are unhappy the retiring Jonny Wilkinson wasn’t nominated and an MP – Lib Dem Greg Mulholland – has called for a boycott of the ceremony because rugby league star Sam Burgess wasn’t included (although with the Lib Dems facing wipe out in next year’s General Election I would have thought Mulholland would be more worried about saving his Leeds North West seat than who was nominated). And in my opinion a member of England’s World Cup winning women’s rugby union team should have ben on the list, namely captain Katy McLean. The list is decided by a “panel of experts” – yet another way of saying a committee which goes back to my last post – but why not just let the public vote for who they want then whittle it down to a top ten say the week before the award.
That might have avoided the biggest controversy that hit the award when back in 2011, the nominations were all male. The SPOTY is unusual in sport in that it is not genderd – either sex can win it. The odd thing about the SPOTY though is that the number of female winners has varied wildly between decades (the award began in 1954). In the 1950s there were none, the 1960s had four, the 1970s three, the 1980s one and a half**, the 1990s one, the 2000s three, and the current decade none.
There is no clear pattern there but it seems odd that the only two decades not to have a female winner are the 1950s..and (so far) this one. Considering the fact that the UK outside sport is less sexist than it was in the 1950s it makes it even more puzzling. One suspects that it because the UK press covers sport far more now than it did in the 1950s – the Daily Telegraph for example has a sports supplement every day that it didn’t have in the 1950s – and that the increase has benefited male football more than any other sport so that the proportion of coverage given to women’s sport would fall even if the space given was the same. But that is only my theory.
It is highly unlikely a woman will win the SPOTY this year even though four are nominated. The bookies say it is a two horse race between Mcllroy and Hamilton. While I agree with Mcllroy I think Hamilton is over rated. Formula 1 is a sport where the quality of the car decides who wins not the talent of the driver and Hamilton was in by far the best car this year. Put him in a Caterham – one of the worst cars – and he would have no more chance of winning the World Championship than I have. And that is why two women deserve the award more than him. Lizzy Yarnold did win an Olympic gold medal but since she won it back in February it seems to be too long ago for the attention span of the UK’s press and public. And Jo Pavey won European Championship gold at the age of 40. How many 40-year-olds can still win titles inn a sport that involves running (unlike, say golf and darts where over 40s can – and do – win regularly).
If I was picking the top three it would be 1. Mcllroy 2. Yarnold and 3. Pavey. One suspects Hamilton will be first or second but I think the two women have a better claim. After all – unlike Bernie Ecclestone’s over-hyped circus – they had to rely on their own talent and hard work to win. And isn’t that what sport should be about?
*Gallagher is a visually-impaired skier. Evans is her guide, so they are nominated together.
**In 1984 the male/female ice-dancing duo of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won the award. For the purpose of listing the number of male and female winners, it is counted as half male and half female.

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