Many see it as an integral part of the run-up before Christmas. That sporting awards ceremony that we all look forward to each year and, apparently, our sporting heroes love to attend. Cutely nicknamed SPOTY, it’s the Sports Personality of the Year.
So you’d think that, as a sports editor, I’d be glued to my television on a rainy Sunday evening as I sit on my sofa cheering on my favourite sportsperson. If you thought that, you’d be wrong. I wasn’t even watching the X-Factor final.
Instead (before you ask), I went to see my mate Ashley, who I haven’t seen since September. But why, unlike many of my fellow sporting fans at Nouse, am I totally disillusioned by such a ‘celebrated’ sporting accolade?
Well, firstly, I find it absolutely amazing that in this age of austerity and BBC executive pay-offs, there is still enough in the TV-licensing budget remaining to fund a hugely decedent live broadcast for nearly three hours. If I could be bothered to pay my TV license, then I’d see it as a massive waste of money that I put in to the corporation. And if I did pay for a TV license, I’d be a very annoyed that it was being spent on a montage for Sir Alex Ferguson.
My other main issue with SPOTY is that it seems to have forgotten its original purpose. When Paul Fox bought about the BBC’s first Sports Personality of the Year Award in 1954, it had to be awarded to a sportsperson “whose actions have most captured the public’s imagination”.
So, taking the case of the 2013 winner Andy Murray, I fail to see why he warranted the honour. Yes, winning Wimbledon was a big thing and so was being the first British male winner since Fred Perry in 1936 – that’s seventy-seven years, in case you’d never heard this statistic banded around before! Interestingly, Virginia Wade’s win in 1977 seems to have been left by the wayside. But did he capture the “public’s imagination”?
Well, apparently not. Participation levels in tennis have actually decreased this year, resulting in Sport England threatening to cut over half a million of the Lawn Tennis Association’s £17.4 million funding for the next four years. And after The Sun spun him as pro-Scotland/anti-British, Murray and his coldness in front of the camera make him hard to warm to. I suspect that the majority of his votes from the British population did come from Scotland.
Who would have been my winner? I’d like to have said AP McCoy; reaching a milestone of his 4000th race win is something not to be scoffed at. However, I find anything horse-related debatable as a sport, and I find horse racing a tad unethical (although this argument opens up a whole new can of worms that requires a comment piece to itself). And my housemate reliably informs me that AP McCoy is tirelessly in the top three because all the race course punters put money on him to win and vote for him countless times.
Both Murray and McCoy also lack the ‘personality’ that you would expect from such an award title. Really, Murray’s win comes about with an ironic ‘lack of’ Sport Personality of the Year, whilst he should have came runners-up to the dreary voices of Andre Villas-Boas, Kimi Raikkonen and Paula Radcliffe. If you want personality, look no further than David Haye and Mario Ballotelli.
However, the underlying point is that champions of sporting trophies don’t deserve another trophy just for being good at their sport. Their other rewards from the sports themselves should be enough; does success need rewarding with yet more success? What about the other people in sport, not necessarily playing the sport, who are helping to improve the opportunities and lives of many people involved in sport?
It’s the champions of justice, reform and individual triumph who should really be the focus of these rewards – focusing on and extending the Unsung Hero and Helen Rollason awards so that people who have done great good in sport can be recognised for their success. The Unsung Hero Award recognises those who voluntarily make a substantive contribution to sport, whilst the Helen Rollason Award recognises “outstanding achievement in the face of adversity” (with the award being named after the first female presenter of Grandstand who died of cancer in 1999 aged 43 after she raised £5million for the cancer wing of North Middlesex Hospital).
Former inspirational winners most noticeably include the boxer paralysed by Chris Eubank, Michael Watson, who ran the London Marathon in six days, as well as other major fund-raisers such as Geoff Thomas and Major Phil Packer, and paralympians Tanni Grey-Thompson and Oscar Pistorius (although we can skip over him). These are the sorts of the people who capture the public’s imagination (again, skip over Pistorius).
I don’t want it to become an emotional rollercoaster, nor do I accept that it’s easy to pick one good cause out of many, but it’s these causes nonetheless that deserve the focus of such an overtly decadent ceremony so that the public can really get behind them instead.
Having said all this, it’s still better than the X-Factor.