Awards shows are weird things. We seem to have reached an impasse of sorts, both desperately competitive and competitively desperate to see our teams, our athletes win. It is a tribalism verging on a spiteful relentlessness. Anything else is a form of failure; calls for sackings and signings, accusations of laziness and incompetence. Arguably, professional sport has never been accompanied with such vitriol in defeat and such joy in victory as now.
Yet, when awards season arrives there is a curious apathy, an almost sociopathic sangfroid to gongs that once meant so much. Every prize has come to be represented by distrust, a sentiment that reflects a societal culture carrying more misgivings than ever, that nothing is as it seems and that there can only ever be one correct result: yours.
And as BBC Sports Personality of the Year appears at our doorstep in among the annual pre-Christmas festivities, no set of awards seems to come with armed with such suspicion and illogical indifference.
The BBC, Lineker, Balding, Logan, a lack of meaningful footage owing to the national public broadcaster’s relative absence in the sports rights sphere – it’s an occasion that could scarcely be more quintessentially British. It’s a celebration of variety, of lifetime achievement, of the unsung, of those who came so close.
Yet there are so many who turn not an even a semi-interested eye to proceedings. However, for my mind, there are few greater sporting occasions in the country’s sporting calendar.
Judging one sport against another is, frankly, impossible. Likewise, to rank 10 sports people from different disciplines by achievement is no more than arbitrary pointlessness. Where does netball gold sit among Gareth Southgate’s Lions? What was Alastair Cook’s emotional ton to Tiger Woods’ fairytale win? In the genius stakes, how does one compare Lewis Hamilton’s fifth world title to Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record-breaking nineteenth major? You can’t. And that is what makes it special.
They are futile questions to which there is no real answer. Yet, that is what should make Sports Personality such a must-watch. Ultimately, sport will always be sport. And for that reason alone, it will always be unfailingly popular. Whatever the ball’s shape, the lap time, the length of the game, it is the notion of triumph that keeps people engaged and addicted.
Equally, it is what makes a multisport ceremony so intriguing. Each sports person is so different but hugely similar, all bound together by success. It is why Jonathan Rea claimed silver last year, why Jonnie Peacock took third ahead of Anthony Joshua; why Ellen McArthur took second ahead of Steven Gerrard; why Paula Radcliffe won her crown ahead of David Beckham; why, in 1966, second place was taken by speedway’s Barry Briggs.
Of course, popularity is the staple of any vote. Yet, Sports Personality is so much more. It is ability coupled not only with achievement, but with respect from audience to athlete.
In a vote so imprecise there’s right nor wrong – a potent mix that creates the perfect award.