With the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards airing live in just over a week’s time, Tom Ballard takes stock of the all-male short list and the lack of minority sport representation.
Undoubtedly one of the most prestigious honours in British Sport, the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) competition has this year courted media attention due to the lack of any shortlisted female athletes or minority sports.
Despite the stellar performances of British triathletes in 2011, and especially the extraordinary achievements of Great Britain’s seven female world champions, neither the sport nor any of its athletes’ contributions were deemed worthy of the awards’ shortlist.
Instead, the ten sportsmen featured included three golfers (Darren Clarke, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy); two cricketers (Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss); Tour de France Green Jersey and World Cycling Champion Mark Cavendish; tennis ace Andy Murray; 5,000m runner Mo Farah; hurdler Dai Greene and boxer Amir Khan.
Four-time World Ironman Champion, Chrissie Wellington, has been particularly outspoken about the lack of representation on behalf of other women, triathletes and para-athletes. Blogging on her website about the oversights of the shortlist, she said: “The list clearly reflects a view (at least by the publications consulted) that the performances by the 10 male nominees were superior to those by any single female athlete.”
It’s not only athletes who have expressed disappointment at the shortlist. Speaking on BBC Breakfast, SPOTY presenter Jake Humphrey said: “Why are there no women on the shortlist? I think it’s wrong to say that it’s been a poor year for women’s sport”.
Citing Chrissie as an example, he added: “We’ve got some amazing women and yes, it’s right to celebrate them. They haven’t made the top ten this year, it’s disappointing, but it is the way it is… It’s not a sexist competition, but this year it is sportsman of the year rather than sports personality of the year.”
The reigning ITU World Champion, Helen Jenkins, who was overlooked entirely for nominations, was more philosophical about the lack of triathlon representation in the awards. She said: “As triathletes, we’re not as much in the media as everyone else. That goes for the men too; Alistair’s won over 50 per cent of every world series race there’s ever been and that’s incredible to be so dominant, but it’s not in people’s mind so much. I don’t think it’s just a women’s thing, but a minority sport thing.”
Indeed, it may be just this that precludes sports such as triathlon from being featured in the SPOTY awards, voted for as it is by the sports editors of 27 publications, 24 of which are newspapers – historically focusing on mainstream sports – and the remaining three being Sport Magazine, Nuts and Zoo, of which the latter pair abstained from nominating any women.
Wellington said: “Although I do not have an issue, per se, of the inclusion of Nuts and Zoo, I believe (assuming their readership is predominantly male) that equivalent publications with a predominately female audience, for example Sportssister, are also included.”
Whether the reasoning for the exclusion of females, minority sports and para-athletes is down to the biases of those voting, media proliferation of the sports and their stars or the breadth of the voting system itself, the BBC responded to criticisms about the shortlist with a release which stated: “We stand by the current process but have committed to take on board what happened this year.
“We will review the shortlisting process for next year’s show… rest assured that we will seek the opinions of people both within and outside of the BBC before deciding on the appropriate methodology for 2012.”
For now however, Wellington remains critical: “I disagree with the BBC’s assertion that this system is “fair, independent and robust… I do not feel able to support an event which endorses and perpetuates the message that a) not one single women has done anything of sporting note, relative to their male counterparts this year, and that b) the achievements of those participating in minority sports are somehow inferior to those in more high profile (better funded) sports.”
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