BLOG: WANT TO BE SPORTS PERSONALITY? BETTER TAKE UP FORMULA 1
The ten finalists for the Sports Personality of the Year award will be revealed on tonight’s edition of BBC’s evening magazine programme The One Show. If a cyclist is among them, I’ll patiently spend Saturday morning chewing through my arm.
In fact, the competition looks to be a foregone conclusion anyway. Lewis Hamilton, the Formula 1 driver who almost won the world title, will win it – despite the fact that he and his personality have moved to Switzerland so their money can relax in peace.
Every year cycling fans complain at the lack of respect paid to our two-wheeled warriors. What, they ask, must a cyclist do to gain some kind of recognition?
Well, last year Nicole Cooke was among the finalists, only to find herself on the receiving end of a particularly crass and thoughtless interview from Adrian Chiles.
How fitting, then, that Chiles, as one of the presenters of The One Show will be unveiling the list of non-cyclists worthy of our adulation this evening.
Already, Sunday, December 9 – Sports Personality of the Year night – is one on which I will avoid the television in a bid to prevent unnecessarily raising my blood pressure.
I don’t wish to sit through three hours of drivel for a brief, glib 20-second mention of how well our cyclists are doing.
After all, we’ve only got half a dozen or so world champions – how can they possibly hold a candle to the nation’s great and good.
Okay, so Hamilton has had a remarkable debut season and is, on balance, probably a deserving winner. Perhaps only Ricky Hatton can challenge him – and the late phone votes will be flooding in if the Manchester mauler beats Floyd Mayweather in the early hours of December 9.
But the rest of them? Give me a break.
Ahead of the official unveiling of the ten finalists, the BBC has been doing its best to inflate the profile of its favoured few.
Paula Radcliffe is there, presumably for getting through the New York Marathon without having to wee on the pavement.
Jonny Wilkinson is there for kicking a rugby ball not quite as well as he did four years ago.
And what’s this? Tim Flamin’ Henman? Why? For having the decency to retire?
Don’t even get me started on the inclusion of Britain’s Most Forgetful Athlete, Christine Ohuruogu. That really is a disgrace.
The problem with the entire contest is that it’s based on a false premise. By calling it ‘Sports Personality’ the apologists can over-look genuine achievements in favour of popular ones. But it’s still a lie. Justin Rose is not known for his laugh-a-minute demeanour on the golf course – he’s about as interesting as Nick Faldo was. And although Joe Calzaghe may be a world-class boxer, his charisma can’t fight its way out of a paper bag.
If it really was only about being bubbly and fun, just give the award to Kriss Akabusi’s laugh for the rest of the century and be done with it.
The awards were devised in 1954 by a BBC producer called Paul Fox, who went on to have a long and influential career in television sports broadcasting.
Even in the first year they didn’t get it right. The prize went to Chris Chataway, a runner who won silver in the 5,000 metres at the European Championships in Bern.
Surely Roger Bannister, who broke the four-minute mile and won 1,500-metre gold in Bern and another gold at the Commonwealth Games, was a more deserving winner?
Getting it hopelessly wrong is one of the ‘enduring’ hallmarks of the SPOTY.
BLAME THE PUBLIC
Only one cyclist has ever won the BBC’s award. Reigning world champion Tom Simpson won in 1965 after Cycling Weekly printed a version of the entry form. Readers voted in their thousands, many multiple times, and Simpson won the prize. After that, only official voting forms printed in the Radio Times counted.
In 1967 another world champion, Beryl Burton, was second – a remarkable result.
These days, of course, the general public – with all its discerning wisdom and insight – gets to use its sausagey fingers to text or phone votes.
It’s a small wonder Steven Gerrard doesn’t win every single year, so let’s be grateful for small mercies.
But it has reduced the contest to nothing more than a glorified sporting version of X Factor with the minority sports given the same novelty-value treatment as the out-of-tune wally who thinks he can sing.
GO ON, GIVE US THE TEAM PRIZE?
It would be nice, after blitzing the world championships in Majorca, to think that the Great Britain cycling team would be presented with the team of the year prize but even that seems to be a far-fetched dream. No doubt the egg-chasers who were terrible, then okay, then impotent in the World Cup will get that instead.
So perhaps we’d better wait until next year – when Britain’s cyclists return from Beijing – until there is some form of recognition.
Knowing our luck Andy Murray, whose personality appears to live inside a very black cloud, will win Wimbledon and the cyclists will be forgotten. Again.
There is a bright spot, though, a 16-year-old cyclist called George Atkins, winner of the criterium at the European Youth Olympic Festival earlier this year, is listed as one of the contenders for the Young Sports Personality of the Year. Good luck to him.
As for the senior award, I can’t wait for the words: “Well, unfortunately Lewis can’t be with us this evening, so here to collect the award on his behalf is Victoria Pendleton.”
The One Show BBC One, tonight, 7pm
Sports Personality of the Year BBC One, Sunday, December 9 (book a nice restaurant instead)