In a crazy year, it has been reassuring to have the usual harbingers of Christmas around us this week – lights and decorations going up, Band Aid and The Pogues on the radio every other minute…oh, and of course the annual controversy over the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
The arguments started early this year – should there even be an award in a year when so many sports people have been so cruelly denied their moment in the spotlight (I am thinking particularly of the postponed Olympic Games here)?
And if there is to be an award, perhaps it is time to give it to someone whose personality – and actions – have truly merited the prize? A sports person who has used his incredible fame and fortune for such an important cause. I refer of course to Marcus Rashford, the sporting hero of 2020, whose campaign for free school meals hit headlines and forced a government to re-think.
Or perhaps it was the year to think about awarding it to Rob Burrow, the former rugby league player now suffering with Motor Neurone Disease who has done so much, so powerfully, to raise awareness. Or maybe Kevin Sinfield, his former colleague, who is running seven marathons in seven days this week to raise money for the MND Association.
I am sure both Rashford’s incredible work for children and Burrow’s brave fight will be duly highlighted on the night – but the BBC has stuck with its shortlisted six format for the Sports Personality of the Year prize. One of them, Tyson Fury, has implored his supporters – and indeed all sports fans – not to vote for him and asked to be taken off the shortlist. It remains to be seen whether the public take him at his word, or go the other way and he receives a landslide of votes. Regardless, that still leaves five very worthy candidates for the prize – but again, those nominations were not without controversy.
Hollie Doyle, the record-breaking jockey, was the only woman to be nominated which gave rise to accusations of sexism, not for the first time in the show’s history. Alice McGovern, Labour’s shadow sports minister told The Telegraph: “Given everything that’s happened to women’s sport this year, the challenges of Covid, the struggle that women have faced, this seems like a massive missed opportunity, and it is really baffling to understand where the women are if they are not on this list.
Zara Tindall (nee Phillips) was the last female winner of the BBC’s coveted trophy 14 years ago in 2006 (which brought with it its own grumblings about favouring royalty) which has already brought about a record run of consecutive male winners and is more than likely to continue this year.
While Doyle has enjoyed phenomenal success this year, there seems little doubt that Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton will take the trophy for Sports Personality of the Year 2020. In a year which saw him break the world record for most Grands Prix won – and equal Michael Schumacher’s achievement of seven world championships, the Stevenage-born driver looks certain to win the night and add to his previous SPOTY win in 2014 as well as his four previous second-place finishes.
If he did so, he will beat the other three (male) contenders Stuart Broad, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Jordan Henderson – all of whom have enjoyed very successful years of their own in cricket, snooker and football respectively.
The debates and arguments around Sports Personality of the Year stem from that use of the word ‘personality’ and there have long been calls to change it to sportsperson of the year – so there is an awareness that the BBC is simply looking to acknowledge the very best in sporting achievement.
Because everywhere you look in sport – at elite level and grassroots – there are worthy candidates for sports personalities of the year. People use sport as a vehicle to go out of their way to make a difference in society. And that ethos is at the heart of Sportside’s mission to unearth – and celebrate – Community Captains.
Community Captains are approved members of Sportside who we pinpoint as outstanding contributors to their local community. Being one puts you in a position of trust with the people you meet through Sportside, allowing you to engage, motivate and support others while playing sports together in a safe environment.
As our Connect and Play app launches this week, we urge all those who have either let their sporting habits slide during lockdown or those who have never even considered sport before to get out, meet with others, and get active.
There has never been a more important moment in the country’s recent history for people to get active. Worrying numbers released by Sport England this week showed that physical activity levels in England have bombed during the coronavirus pandemic with only 24 per cent of adults in England taking the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week, compared with 63 per cent at the start of lockdown in March.
It could become a crisis, but it is an avoidable one – and our app is here to help. Download Sportside today, find your sporting match and run, walk or bike your way to a healthier 2021.