A tale of two awards

This is a big week for sports awards with two major ones being decided, one in the US and one here in the UK. But both awards have had their share of controversy and neither have had a distinguished week to put it mildly.

The first award started in 1954 and is presented by the American magazine Sports Illustrated. Despite its title – the Sportsman of the Year – both individuals (male and female) and teams (male and female) are eligable for the award. For example the 1999 United States Women’s World Cup winning team and the 2004 curse breaking World Series winning Boston Red Sox have won this award. The staff of the magazine have decided the award rather than a vote of the magazine’s readers.

But this year the magazine got into a horrid mess. First of all they ran a public poll. Second they nominated a horse – the triple crown winner American Pharaoh. Now a horse is not a person Therefore it should not be able to win the sportsperson of the year award. Whether or not they intended American Pharaoh’s candidacy to be a joke we don’t know. But the public have a habit of voting for “joke” candidates and American Pharaoh romped to victory. I suspect the vote was hijacked by the horse racing lobby but whatever the reason he won the poll.

Quite rightly the magazine staff did not make American Pharaoh Sportsman of the year instead they gave the award to tennis superstar Serena Williams (when a woman wins they call it Sportsperson of the year. Why not just call it the Sportsperson of the year every year or else split the award into two awarding both the sportsman and woman of the year?). Cue an uproar from American Pharaoh’s supporters claiming the public vote should be respected with sadly as it was a black woman who won disintegrated into racist and sexist abuse. And it was all totally unnecessary. The magazine should not have had a public poll nor should they have nominated a horse. By doing both they have made a fool of themselves and overshadowed Williams’ deserved award. But at least they chose the right winner.

The second award also by a coincidence started in 1954. This one is the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award (hitherto known as SPOTY). Unlike the Sports Illustrated award this one is only open to individuals – teams have their own award. Also unlike the Sports Illustrated award it is decided by public vote. Except the public don’t get to vote for who they want but they are limited to a group of 10-12 nominations decided by a “panel of experts” who have got into a dreadful mess over the nominations.

One of the twelve people they nominated was new World Heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury who won his title on November 28th – just in time (along with Davis Cup hero Andy Murray) to be nominated. Now purely on sporting achivement Fury would deserve to be nominated. But it is not that simple.

After he won his title Fury opened his mouth and out came the bile. Fury on homosexuality:

“There are only three things that need to be  accomplished before the devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is paedophillia. Who would have thought in the 50s and 60s that those two would be legalised?”

Oh dear where do you start with that? To compare homosexuality and abortion to paedophillia is ridiculous. To say that the devil would be happy with them being legalised is even worse. Fury really should have shut up at this point. He was in a hole so he should have stopped digging. Instead he did another interview where he was asked about women in sport and said this about fellow SPOTY nominee Jessica Ennis-Hill :

“She’s good, she’s won quite a few medals, she slaps up good as well. When she’s got a dress on she looks quite fit”.

And then he spoke about women in boxing :

“I’m all for it. I’m not sexist. I believe a woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back. Making me a cup of tea that’s what I believe”.

If this guy is not a sexist I’d hate to meet one who is!

Now you would think these views would stop him being nominated for SPOTY or be withdrawn from the list. After all when Conservative MP Enoch Powell made his infamous racist “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968 outraged party leader Edward Heath banished him from the Shadow Cabinet and the speech cost him any chance he had of being Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister. I suspect if an MP made these comments he/she would become a “parliamentary leper” – as Harold Wilson called controversial Smethwick winner Peter Grifffiths in 1964. I suspect in any other industry Fury would have been punished for his outrageous views.

But not in sport. Oh no. Fury remains on the SPOTY list. In fact the only person that has been punished is BBC journalist Andy West who has been suspended for saying that he was “ashamed” of the BBC for nominating Fury. So someone has been punished for criticising Fury while the bigot gets off scot free. The BBC should be ashamed of themselves.

This shameful affair must never happen again. First of all the BBC must get rid of the nominations and let the people vote for who they want not just limiting them to twelve names. As usual there have been complaints that other worthy candidates like Joe Root have not been nominated. If nominations did not exist there would have been no fuss over Fury’s nomination since no one would have been nominated.

But secondly sport must be forced to change its ways. People in sport who behave in a racist/sexist/homophobic way should be banned for life. Since sport will never agree to this voluntarily the Government should threaten sport in the only way sport understands. If a sport does not agree to ban people with offensive views the sport in question should (a) lose all Government funding and (b) have to pay 83% tax*. This would cost a sport a lot of money. And the only way to make sport make sense is threaten it with losing money.

As for the SPOTY award itself Andy Murray will be the favourite but if there is justice in this world Ennis-Hill will win it. First of all she should have won this award in 2009 and 2010. Only Manchester United and horse racing fans thought Ryan Giggs (2009) and A P McCoy (2010) deserved the award more than she did. Secondly she deserves some reward for having to be in the same building as a scumbag who holds her in contempt.

And thirdly it would restore the reputation of an award that the nomination of Fury has sent into the gutter. If Ennis-Hill wins the BBC – like Sports Illustrated – will have got away with their blunders and their award too will have a worthy winner.

*The top rate of tax from 1974-79 in the UK was 83% (amazing as it seems now). Since sport – especially football –  seems to be stuck in the 1970s – there is a case for saying that if the 1970s were that wonderful sport should have to pay 1970s tax rates!

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