Last week at the Tower of London 12 awards were handed out by the Sports Journalists Association (SJA) over the course of nearly three hours. All the recipients were present with the exception of Chris Froome, who won the Sportsman of the Year, because he was out of the country for warm-weather training. That is also the reason that he is unlikely to attend the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award in Liverpool on Sunday.
The SJA’s Sportswoman of the Year was awarded to Hannah Cockroft, the remarkable wheelchair sprinter. She is the first para-athlete to win one of the SJA’s three main awards (the third is Team of the Year), but when you consider she has won all 17 of the major finals she has contested, including three at this year’s World Para-Athletic Championships in London, she is an extremely deserving winner.
There’s not much point in the charismatic Cockroft pitching up at the Echo Arena for the BBC extravaganza on Sunday because she’s not even made the shortlist of 12, although she is just the type of “personality” the main award appears to be designed for. If she does go she probably won’t get to see Lewis Hamilton, Sir Mo Farah and, as mentioned earlier, Chris Froome, who all have other commitments on the night. That trio would make a pretty handy SPOTY podium, but tax affairs, Alberto Salazar and being a member of Team Sky would make it unlikely. The BBC must be quietly hoping they don’t have to present the night’s big prize via video link.
Of the remaining nine on the BBC shortlist, most are from the behind-the-red-button or not-on-the-BBC landscape: motorcycling, speed skating, swimming, para-athletics, taekwondo and women’s cricket. Footballer Harry Kane and tennis player Johanna Konta represent the mainstream without having won anything major, so that leaves Anthony Joshua.
The world heavyweight champion won his title in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley in April and then defended it in Cardiff in October. Joshua is a terrific fighter and represents his sport with great dignity when it is too often sold on hatred and undeserved hype. He was runner-up to Froome in SJA awards and there wouldn’t be too many complaints if the Sky Box Office superstar won the BBC’s biggest prize.
But Sports Personality of the Year has become strangely devalued over time. There is more sport than ever before, shown on more platforms and open to more people, particularly women and people with disabilities. The sports-watching public are better informed than they have ever been through greater choice and increased media coverage on a variety of platforms. The BBC is now a traditional corner shop in the global sports supermarket, yet its award remains among the most cherished and the one everyone remembers.
If SPOTY is to survive, it has to matter as much to those who get nominated as it does to the public who watch them. Both Joshua and Cockroft would be worthy winners, maybe neither will but, ridiculously, only one can.