The BBC has announced its shortlist for its prestigious annual award, the Sports Personality of the Year. The shortlist reflects the healthy state of British sport this year as, unlike in previous years, there is not one sportsman controversially included, rather the focus has been on those overlooked, and predominantly the outrageous exclusion of female sports stars.
Quite rightly Mark Cavendish, the cyclist, has been made the favourite by the bookies after a stellar year. He became the first Briton to claim the green jersey in the Tour de France, the award for the Tour’s best sprinter, whilst also becoming the first British male world road race champion for 46 years.
The UK continues to be the centre of the golfing universe and this has been appropriately acknowledged with three of its star performers shortlisted; Darren Clarke for victory at the Open, his maiden major title at the age of 43, Rory McIlroy, who recovered from his meltdown at the Masters to record an eight-shot victory at the US Open, and in the process become the youngest Major winner since Tiger Woods in 1997 and Luke Donald whose consistency has seen him become the world’s number one golfer.
Cricketers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook have been recognised for their part in English Test cricket’s annus mirabilis, which encompassed a resounding Ashes victory Down Under and the 4-0 whitewash of India which elevated England to the top Test side in the world. Cook’s remarkable consistency with the bat has seen him nominated after he scored 766 runs in the Ashes and posted a mammoth 294 against the Indians at Edgbaston, whilst captain Strauss has overseen England’s unbeaten year.
The success of British athletes at the World Championships in Daegu has likewise been recognised after Mo Farah’s gold in the 5,000m and Dai Greene’s triumph in the 400m hurdles. Greene now holds the World, European and Commonwealth titles whilst Farah has become the first British male to claim long distance gold at a global championships.
Amir Khan’s boxing career has continued to soar after the successful defence of his WBA belt in July, which now sees him unbeaten in eight fights and beginning to prove himself as Britain’s premier boxer.
Andy Murray has once again been rewarded for his consistency having claimed five titles and reaching the semi finals in each Grand Slam tournament, including the final at the Australian Open back in January.
Although the focus in the aftermath of the nominations should be on those selected, the exclusion of female British sport stars from the list is shocking and inexcusable. It would be wrong to call for a quota to recognise the efforts of female athletes, but it is staggering that their endeavours have not been formally appreciated.
Swimmer Rebecca Adlington has been overlooked despite claiming gold in the 800m at the World Swimming Championships in China earlier this year, whilst her compatriot Keri-Anne Payne won gold in the 10k open water event.
In October Chrissie Wellington won her fourth Ironman world championship title and has taken to Twitter to complain at the lack of female representation; “It’s not about me, it’s about the need to celebrate achievements of so many female GBR athletes. Disgraceful.”
Are these nominations simply an anomaly or symptomatic of a deeper-lying problem in British sport? Since 2006 there have been at least two females included in the shortlist but the 2011 list reflects the dearth of top quality female sport stars in this country.
As for the result itself, it would be incredulous if Mark Cavendish were not rewarded for his extraordinary endeavours during the Tour de France. However it would not be surprising if the British public chose to award the trophy to Darren Clarke in a sympathy vote.
The past two winners, Ryan Giggs and jockey AP McCoy have been selected largely in recognition of the longevity of their careers rather than for spectacular sporting achievements within the calendar year. Were Cavendish to claim the prize this year it would not just reflect well on his sporting achievements but also on the British public for recognising that this is an award designed to recognise specific accomplishments, not an honour for services to sport.