The BBC Sports Personality of the Year award has always been a highlight of the year for me. I remember being staying up to watch Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman battle it out for the 1997 award (what a great year that must have been for “British” sport, incidentally Steve Redgrave was 3rd, outside an Olympic year!) and I have made it one of my annual unmissable TV events any time I have been in the country to see it.
For your reading pleasure I am going to attempt to separate this year’s candidates and rank them in order from 16 to 1 in terms of who deserves to be where according to the “Andy Watson criteria of sporty awesomeness” ™©®
I know, I know, I do spoil you with this stuff, so I’ll try not to bore you too much. I really hope that you disagree with me about my order, otherwise that’ll just be boring, but I will attempt to justify my thinking with a short paragraph. This post will take you through places 16 to 11.
But first, here are 7 gloriously interesting facts about SPOTY:
Steve Davis has been in the top 3 more times than anyone else (5), finally winning in 1988
Jessica Ennis-Hill has been in the top 3 the most times (4) without winning the award
Two members of the Royal family have been crowned Sports Personality of the Year, Princess Anne in 1971 and Zara Phillips in 2006
The sports represented on the podium only once include rallying (Colin McRae in 1995), darts (Phil Taylor, 2010), gymnastics (Beth Tweddle, 2006) and rugby league (Kevin Sinfield, 2015)
Barry Briggs, a speedway rider from New Zealand, is the only non-Brit to have been placed in the top 3 of the award in 1964 and 1966 (beating Sir Geoff Hurst in ’66!)
Bob Nudd, a four time world champion angler, was the original winner of the 1991 award, however all votes cast via forms printed in the “Angling Times” were subsequently banned by the BBC as their campaign was deemed to be against the rules (Opinion: although interestingly some would say that Kevin Sinfield reached 2nd place last year on the back of rugby league’s fan base uniting and voting for him…)
The show began in 1954 with just one award presented and a running time of 45 minutes, now there are 8 regular awards and the show is now broadcast live from a massive arena with an ever-growing running time, now over two and a half hours. Well, it would have to be, with 16 candidates to profile for the main award as well as 7 other awards to dish out…
Which brings me nicely to my first point about this year’s ceremony; Why 16? Is it really necessary? I understood doing 12 for 2012, it was only two more than usual, it was to celebrate a magnificent home Olympics, makes sense. But 6 extra? Yes, Team GB and Paralympics GB did a sensational job, did us all proud, and my challenge would never have started without them, but just be ruthless and narrow the field. The selection panel took a bit of an easy way out this year in my humble opinion.
My real issue with SPOTY is the “P”. It’s all about etymology. What I always end up arguing with friends and colleagues about when discussing who should win tends to boil down to someone saying “Yes, but it’s Sports Personality of the Year! They have no personality/They’re so boring/They’re an idiot” regardless of whether they were World/Olympic/Grand Slam/Major champion. If this is you, then listen in: the word personality was included in the title of the award in 1954 simply to describe a well known person, a star, a high achieving individual. However, as the way we used used the word developed, and as we became more obsessed with ranking things and competition, and as the media hype around, well, everything, increased, that word ‘personality’ seemed to become an important criterion to assess the shortlisted individuals on. I would argue, and have, on many occasions, that this award should be judged and voted for on the basis of sporting achievement, not on their acerbic wit and repartee in interviews or their wonderful word play within 140 characters on social media. Otherwise, this would just be the Joey Barton or Graeme Swann award. And nobody wants that.
Which rounds me nicely onto my own list. It’s difficult to really nail down how I have separated out some of the contenders as it really has been a magnificent year of performances, and I run the risk of tripping myself up with a set of hard and fast rules. But what I will say is that I put a lot emphasis on the athlete being the absolute best in the world at what they do, and if there is definitive proof of that over the course of the year then that is the main thing. Also, the depth of talent in the event/sport that has been excelled in (think Linford Christie, 100m, 1993) and the uniqueness of the achievement of the athlete plays a part (think Bradley Wiggins, Tour de France, 2012). Previous entries or wins don’t matter, it’s all about 2016. Even then there are just intangibles that I can’t define, I guess that’s just what they call personal opinion!
My 16 to 1 then, starts with:
16. Danny Willett – Golf
The thumbs-up pose loving, press conference swearing, undoubtedly talented Yorkshireman did something that no Brit had done for 20 years in winning the US Masters in April. And that was about it really. Wait, he also won the Dubai Desert Classic this year. But he struggled at the Ryder Cup under the scrutiny brought upon him by big bro PJ and his somewhat inflammatory comments about American golf fans on the eve of his brother’s debut in the biannual golfing war, hence the subsequent press conference swear. Also, his world ranking hit a peak of 9, making him, by some distance, not the world’s best. So, well done Danny, the Masters was a great achievement, but for me you probably shouldn’t even be on the list at all.
15. Kate Richardson-Walsh – Hockey
Tricky one this, on many levels. Undoubtedly, the women’s hockey team were sensational at Rio 2016, and their achievement was unique, fulfilling an important criterion. Their matches took on a level of national importance that the sport hadn’t reached since Seoul 1988, and propelled a number of the squad into a realm of celebrity that no hockey player had seen before, and even saw Sam Quek into another TV popularity contest. The difficulty is, how do you single out an individual in a team sport? Did Kate Richardson-Walsh perform especially well? Or is this an individual nomination for a captain on behalf of her team? Having watched (most of) the matches I would say that Richardson-Walsh is an excellent leader and a strong player, but no more outstanding than say Maddie Hinch, Alex Danson or even Kate’s own wife, Helen Richardson-Walsh, all of whom were just as important and maybe had more starring moments in the gold run. Only 10 people from team sports have won the award in its history and it’s easy to understand why.
14. Nick Skelton – Equestrian
All horse lovers must forgive my ignorance for this, but didn’t Big Star actually win the gold, not Nick Skelton? I understand that it needs a lot of skill to be able to ride a horse, and I will have my own turn within my challenge, but I simply can’t be giving Sports Personality of the Year to someone who sits and tells another mammal what to do. Having said that, Skelton did become our oldest gold medallist since 1908, and is now a double gold medallist after the team gold in London. He has also had an amazing journey through his sport with severe injuries and dangerous falls all throughout his 40 odd years in showjumping, so he thoroughly deserves recognition for his achievements, just can’t make it any higher in this list this year.
13. Jamie Vardy – Football
What a story. We shall wait and see whether the movie does actually come about but there is no doubt that Jamie Vardy was an absolute revelation in the 2015/16 Premier League season: scoring in a Premier League record 11 consecutive matches, winning the Premier League title with Leicester and playing at Euro 2016 with England. The problem that football suffers from in the format of SPOTY is that the season spans over two years, with everything from a season decided in the summer months. Does the lack of form that Vardy has shown in the 2016 calendar year, and more particularly the very poor start to the 2016/17 season, cloud these achievements? For me, I’m afraid it does. After all, his scoring run was from August-November 2015 and in addition, he hasn’t actually proven himself to be even the best forward in England, let alone the world: Harry Kane scored more Premier League goals in 2015/16 season and is regularly selected ahead of Vardy for the national team. Also, given the team sport difficulties discussed above he can’t get any higher than 13th in my list, despite the amazing journey he has been on.
12. Gareth Bale – Football
Sneaking just ahead of Jamie Vardy mostly by the virtue of having a more momentous 2016, and also because, in my opinion, he is a more genuinely world-class player, we have the Welsh football wizard. He played a key role in Real Madrid’s 11th Champions League final victory, assisting the goal and scoring in the penalty shoot-out. He then was the talisman for an exceptional performance from the Welsh football team at Euro 2016, scoring against Slovakia, England and Russia, on their run to the semi-finals. But, he isn’t the best player in the world (yet), not even at his own club (yet) and also, he wasn’t even voted Welsh sports personality of the year. That award went to Jade Jones, the Rio 2016 taekwondo champion, with Bale claiming 2nd place, interesting that Jones fails to make the wider British based list but Bale succeeds in doing so.
11. Sophie Christiansen – Equestrian
Sophie seems to be an incredible young lady, and to be honest, probably the greatest inspiration of all the athletes in contention for the award. Born two months premature with cerebral palsy and with a list of health problems longer than a doctor’s notebook she has shown true tenacity, determination and no little skill to be able to achieve everything she has done in her short, remarkable life. This year she won 3 gold medals in Rio 2016 in the dressage events, an event which requires clear thinking (no problem for Sophie, as she is a statistical analyst at Goldman Sachs, with a first class Maths degree), excellent touch and communication with her horse. Just three points that I want to make against why she isn’t higher in the list though; as with Nick Skelton, I just have a problem with equestrianism when comparing it to other high performance sport, the pool of opponents she needed to beat worldwide is of a lower quality (in my opinion) than in most other athletes’ case on this list, and finally, she also won the same three golds at London 2012, so why wasn’t she on the list then for the same achievements? I do wish I could put her higher as she is incredible as a person, but I just can’t justify it through my own criteria.
Come back to see my 10 to 6 soon!