The BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award has once more courted controversy despite not doing a whole lot wrong. Notwithstanding a couple of errors on the night (cutting Helen Rollason award winner Billy Monger short during his speech to make way for Baddiel and Skinner to wail their way through Three Lion was tactless, so too was ignoring the tragic death of trainer Richard Woollacott), the evening celebrated a fabulous year in style and crowned a deserving winner in Geraint Thomas.
In fairness, the other five nominees all had claims to the title but Thomas’ Tour De France victory, having supported both Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins for so long, was fittingly rewarded and recognised by those who voted. However, for Froome, who outwardly supported a vote for Thomas on his Twitter account, it must have been an internally harrowing evening.
In bare numbers, the voting public has never done justice to Froome’s achievements. He has won four Tour de France’s, only four men in history have won more. That’s twice as many as Thomas and Wiggins put together. Yet that pair each have a SPOTY trophy in their cabinets. Froome has never even featured in the top three.
Both Wiggins and Thomas have an immediate likeability factor and have endeared themselves to a wider public than Froome has. This may seem harsh and Froome has never done anything to harm his personal image. Drug taking accusations may well have put paid to his chances and he is unlucky insofar as those that have dogged Wiggins in recent years came after he’d already won the award. Then again, they didn’t stop Mo Farah last year.
Froome would be a deserving winner if he were to ever take the prize. Saying that, how does one come to deserve the SPOTY award?
There has been a debate, certainly over the last decade, as to what SPOTY actually commemorates. In 2009 and 2010, victories for Ryan Giggs and Sir AP McCoy were wins for longevity, celebrating two stellar careers. However, in their respective years Giggs wasn’t even the best performer at Manchester United and McCoy’s 195 winners were fewer than in ten of his twenty seasons as champion. He won the Grand National yes and to the public who are less knowledgeable about racing, this is probably seen as the pinnacle. Nevertheless, McCoy did not win because he excelled himself more than usual.
Andy Murray has won the award three times in recent years but won no majors in 2015 when taking it for the second time. He is, however, a personality and an increasingly cherished character in our sporting world. Such is the name of the award, that you can hardly baulk at his haul.
Therefore, is there a merit to a renaming of the BBC’s sporting showpiece? Sportsperson of the Year is broad enough that there would be no required criteria but success, whether sustained or sensational. There would be no drama about the winner lacking persona or that they win in a year they shouldn’t have.
Similarly, do away with the shortlist. Those who genuinely care enough to vote seriously will know enough about the past twelve months’ action to make up their minds. All the shortlist did this year was cut two thoroughly deserving sportsmen from the line-up in Tyson Fury and Ronnie O’Sullivan. Both have achieved their goals late in the calendar and so recency bias could have aided them unfairly but the show itself is there to remind the audience of what has been and gone.
It is an excellent award and the roll of honour is an outstanding one, a testament to British sport. Let’s hope the BBC ensure it stays that way. Fingers crossed for Froome and let’s hope there’s a racing nominee in twelve months time (Bryony Frost anyone?).