The Curious History of BBC Sports Personality of the Year

by guest blogger, Paul Moon


BBC Sports Personality of the Year - not normally won by the most obvious sporting candidate, nor the most apparent personality...!

Since its inception in 1954 it has been hard to take the BBC Sports Personality of the Year seriously because of the unabashed cronyism that accompanies it.  Conversely, if you love sport and treat the evening as a sporting caricature it can be great fun!

To say that this titular award is a fix is harsh but to say that it has been judged by a fair public vote is also untrue!  The programme is corrupt in the same way the Eurovision Song Contest is.  Evidence of bias is obvious where some sports are clearly marginalised.  Sport comes second to corporate hospitality and show business whilst words and phrases like junkets, old boys network and expense accounts readily abound!

Initially the top 10 are supposedly decided by a selection of leading newspapers and magazine sport editors who submit their nominations each year.  When asking the BBC who these arbitrators were they refused to give the names until after the 10 had been chosen.  In turn these nominations are excessively loaded to a cosy middle class club who select as if it were a popularity contest neither reflecting nor revealing the true sporting personality of that year.

Proof is very easy to find, for example, in the 56 years that it has been running there have been only three black winners (5%).  There have been 45 English winners (over 80%) with just nine wins from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (16%) put together.  Inexplicably, given the remit of the vote, two winners were from Republic of Ireland and Canada (4%).

John Curry
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John Curry: what do you mean he didn't deserve it?!

Just some of the unworthy and engineered winners include: Ryan Giggs (2009), Zara Phillips (2006), Greg Rusedski (1996), Torvill and Dean (1984), Robin Cousins (1980), John Curry (1976), David Steele (1975) and of course the biggest piece of sporting flattery in history - Princess Anne (1971).  Zara Phillips and her mother are the only pair of award-winners to be members of the same family.  This is quite coincidental and to suggest otherwise is outrageous, furthermore, talk of the BBC cosying up to the Royal Family is despicable!

The obsession with figure skating strikingly reveals the type of person that votes.  The Bolero dance routine was pleasant but it was not sport in the true sense.  For Torvill and Dean to be deemed the SPOTY winner over Sebastian Coe who won Olympic gold in the 1500 metres in record time defies belief and the decision gets worse with time!  He remains the only person to win successive Olympic 1500 metre titles.

There is some credible evidence that Ryan Giggs won it last year because of a sustained betting coup and this represents a modern day challenge for the BBC and this particular title!  It would be interesting to see this conspiracy theory thoroughly investigated but there were distinct betting patterns leading up to the award.  It was impossible to find someone who agreed with Giggs winning the title, even in Wales!  The rest of this article will be written assuming that this will not happen this year, though with a relatively small voting pool it could happen again!

The 57th award will be given on Sunday 19 December 2010 in the LG Arena in Birmingham and already you can irrespectively eliminate some genuine contenders because of criterion sampling!  The middle-classes would not vote for Phil Taylor in a contest of two with Giant Haystacks.  Darts is for the pub and not the Café Bon Bon.  Taylor (50) has had a fantastic year winning the World Championship, the European Championships, the Premier League, the UK Open and the World Matchplay.  He truly deserves recognition but there it will end.

Neither David Haye nor Mo Farah are cut from the cloth of former SPOTY's which seems to compromise their respective chances somewhat.  Jessica Ennis is the best all round female athlete in the world but in this contest that will count for nothing, she will be overlooked again (came 3rd last year).

For horseracing fans the main danger is Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell.  His efforts and achievement were real and he deserves acclaim.  He became Europe's first US Open champion for 40 years when he clinched his maiden major title in impressive fashion at Pebble Beach.  To cap off a stunning year, Europe’s anchor player won the final singles match at the Ryder Cup earning the point that secured victory.

Tony McCoy - SPOTY Contender

Tony McCoy - odds-on for SPOTY 2010

By using any honest measuring sporting criteria there can only be one winner and the decision should be easy!  Anthony Peter McCoy OBE (born 4 May 1974 in Northern Ireland) has been the best National Hunt jockey in the history of the sport for a while now and he won the Grand National last year.  He is a sporting colossus and he deserves the award without reservation!

Regretfully, the type of person that votes in this competition has a penchant for Eventing and Show Jumping not horseracing (previously supplying two winners and one winner respectively).  There has not been a single winner from Horseracing since its commencement - even Lester Piggott did not win SPOTY!  To get this message into context ‘The Long Fellow’ never won this award despite 4,493 winners and nine Derby victories yet Zara Phillips did for bravely jumping a fence!

Surely even the ‘Radio Times Codgers Set’ appreciates that this year must be different?  Latest betting from Betfair offers hope that it could: A P McCoy [1.90] Graeme McDowell [7.0] Phil Taylor [7.8] Lee Westwood [14] Jessica Ennis [15] Tom Daley [28] Amy Williams [29] Graeme Swann [36] Mark Cavendish [75] Colin Montgomerie [85] David Haye [90] Bar [1000].

One notes that Phil Taylor has come into less than 7/1 from 66/1 in the last two weeks - is this another betting coup?

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19 replies
  1. Avatar
    martin jago says:

    If I backed AP, he would probably fall at the last like he normally does when I back him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! anyone else have this problem

  2. Avatar
    Colin Metcalfe says:

    A good article, and one that suggests that the only
    realistic bet to have on the events to lay Tony McCoy !
    I’m not too sure about the conspiracy theories, but the
    truth of the matter is that Racing is not popular enough
    with the general public for him to receive enough votes to
    We as racing fans appreciate his efforts/are somewhat
    biased (delete as applicable) but this is unlikely to
    be enough to earn him the crown.
    Much asI admire his skill and courage , the clue
    is in the word ‘personality’ and the general public
    will not be at all familiar with him (even less so than
    last year’s winner Giggs).
    Hope I’m wrong, but doubt I will be !

  3. Avatar
    pb says:

    the whole competition is a farce, after stephen roche won the tour de france giro d’ italia and the world road race championship in the same year ,which only previously cycling greats had achieved like eddy merxck ,he didnt even win the overseas award , basically because the sport was screened on another channel and not the BBC

  4. Avatar
    Bruce says:

    Perhaps we are barking up the wrong tree. If we think that a fix is possible the only winner will be SEPP BLATTER.

  5. Avatar
    kevin says:

    Yeah I’ve never thought it was a true reflection of the years sporting highs.Like last years winner, Ryan Giggs, good footballer, even if I do hate Man utd.However never played in the World cup,so seems more like lifetime award to me.Sorry to say seems the case with A.P.McCoy and Phil Taylor fall into the same thing
    For me the only winner can be the magic man from the isle of man, Mark Cavendish. In a sport that has never been well taken by the British public,till may be the last Olympics.To win 5 stages in this years Tour De France is amazing but in the 2009 tour he won 6 stages but still never won. So to it does seem fixed.


  6. Avatar
    Terry says:

    Whilst working for a London football club one Sunday afternoon a car turned up from the BBC. The visiting team, Liverpool, had a certain player who was making waves and the car had turned up to collect him post haste.
    This, I believe, was the first year that the phone vote was meant to keep the winner a surprise until the last minute. That theory was scotched when all and sundry heard the driver reply to Michael Owen’s query as to why he had to go to the studio,”We have got to get you ready as you have won.”

    Not such a surprise some five hours before the programme aired.

  7. Avatar
    Brian Morgan says:

    A well-balanced and thought-provoking article. As all fans of this blog will surely agree, to overlook AP would be yet another stain on this already tainted award’s record. In his favour is that the ‘National is one of the Beeb’s few flagship events left, so they can milk the coverage, while much of the darts and golf now sits on subscription channels. Is there another betting coup underway? Quite possibly. Will the typical voter opt for a polite sedate sport? Quite possibly. I think Colin’s suggestion is appropriate – lay Mr McCoy. If he wins you’ll be delighted for him and our sport, while if he is stitched up, at least you can buy a round in the local while complaining loudly about yet another fix…

  8. Avatar
    Peter Colledge says:

    While I agree with every word of the article, England has a problem psychologically because of its essentially puritan ethos. Horses used for the grace and precision of dressage are not the same beasts that clamber over or through fences. Jockeys are workmanlike and are required like tradesmen (women) to perform throughout the working day, whilst horsemen (women) sit daintily atop a noble steed perhaps twice a year. The fact that the BBC has a Horse of the Year show and ignores Sea The Stars is significant.
    I do wish the judges would realise that the winner of SPOTY is not stupid. To give a prize to someone who is plainly unworthy demeans even the recipient of the prize. Giggs, for example, is a paragon of virtue in a sport riven with unparalleled intrigue and scandal. He is a true sportsman; but I’m sure that he knew how bogus his win was.
    So, it’s between Phil Taylor and AP this year is it? I hae ma doots. Nice post, Matt

  9. Avatar
    Shuff says:

    I’ll probably upset a few people here, but personaly I don’t believe McCoy deserves to win.
    There are better Jockeys out there who never get the praise that they deserve,
    If any one of them was given the number of rides McCoy gets in a season I think he’d (McCoy) be fighting for the champion Jockeys title let alone the Sports Personality of the Year.
    On his stats though, he’s a great opportnuity for layer’s!


  10. Avatar
    Richard Baitup says:

    The Bolero wasn’t pleasant, it was absolute perfection and Torville and Dean were very worthy winners. I’m amused that you deem the very physical act of skating as not a proper sport, yet standing still and throwing a few pointy things is.

  11. Avatar
    jim says:

    Well my two penneth goes on Graeme McDowell whose performances this year were awesome to win the Open and to carry the pressure and win the final match oin the Ryder cup unbelieveable. A P is a good servant to horseracing and has been very consistent but awesome. I think not. You are entitled to your opinion and that is what SPOTY is about but however strongly you feel your opinion is right and however much you try to force your opinion on others it doesn’t mean when you lose that there was a carve up. Just that you got it wrong and a higher weight of opinion prevailed. All the best to AP and all the others who all, in their own right, have merits.

  12. Avatar
    General says:

    completely disagree with you Matt about Torvill and Dean, a brilliant routine, watched by absolute millions at the time and it brought a nation together. And you cannot say they did not graft to hit the perfection they did.

    Very very difficult to predict SPOTY this year and this year, a well-organised voting coup can get someone over the line and a win for Taylor would not surprise me at all. Id be a layer of AP myself, sadly..

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Paul

      Just want to remind you (and everyone else) that this was not my post, nor necessarily my point of view. That said, I think the point about ice skating is not so much the artistic merit or the sporting endeavour, but rather the minority ‘middle England’ nature of it.

      It’s interesting to note that while people have suggested that ice skaters were worthy winners, nobody has lampooned the Royals for their turns at the SPOTY top table…


  13. Avatar
    Robert Walpole says:

    An interesting article, and I think it is very difficult to predict this year’s winner.

    The trouble with Tony McCoy is that most people do not know who he is as most people are not interested in horse racing. Plus, when he appears on TV he has little personality, but that has little bearing as most previous winners didn’t either.

    95% of people do not consider Darts to be a sport and even fewer people have heard of him than have heard of McCoy.

    Graeme McDowell and Le Westwood must have chances as Golf is one of the few sports that the BBC still shows. The two athletes should also have a chance on this basis, but unfortunately the BBC coverage of Athletics is dominated by “celebrities” who are not even interesting enough to get into the jungle. Jesicca Ennis would get my vote, and I think she will come close without wining. Mo Farah is a great guy with a bubbly personality but his chances of winning are similar to mine!!

    Tom Daley is involved in a “nothing” sport, and David Haye is in the right sport but has little chance.

    Graeme Swann is the best spin bowler in a sport the BBC hardly recognise, except when we win the ashes, and I fear that will happen this winter but too late for Swanny to benefit.

    I hope Jesicca can win it, but expect a betting coup to stop her – unless of course, the coup relates to her. I do hope so.

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Excellent comment, Robert. I hope AP wins, but I suspect you’re right in the observations you make… Time will tell.


  14. Avatar
    Jim says:

    The challenge for both McCoy and Taylor is that it seems that to win the prize, you have to be participating in a sport that the BBC spends money on televising. The challenge for Taylor is that he never appears on the BBC, as he plays under the federation that works with Sky.

    With McCoy, whilst appearing every now and again through the winter, and commanding a 10 minute personal slot on Grand National day (probably not any more, since last years win) still isn’t mainstream enough.

    For the rest of them, this rule also disqualifies Graeme McDowell (major focus will be on the Ryder Cup performance – Sky TV), Mark Cavendish (Channel 4 and not a lot of focus on cycling nowadays until the Olympics), Colin Montgomerie (okay it was great beating the Yanks, but his impact was less than the golfers themselves, and again this was on Sky), and David Haye (too radical, and the Beeb have disowned boxing).

    This leaves Amy Williams (who many of the public haven’t heard of), Jessica Ennis (can anyone remember what she did in 2010 – really), Tom Daley (for what exactly?), Graeme Swann (potentially deserving, but again the Beeb aren’t covering English cricket) and Lee Westwood. With Lee, having just won in South Africa, and not only finishing 2010 as World number 1, but knocking Woods from that perch, surely this will be the choice of the “public.”

    My vote is with McCoy, it’s just that I feel that it will be like voting for England to win the 2018 World Cup – a pointless exercise.

  15. Avatar
    JB Macinnes says:

    IMHO it looks a strange mixture of candidates with none fitting the ‘bill’ from what I can see. Personally, I have thought Lee Westwood. When was the last time a Brit was World No 1 at anything? But that mightn’t be enough for him. Winning the US Open mightn’t be enough either for McDowell unless there’s a need to politically ‘butter up’ the Northern Irish. A gold for Amy Williams in the crazy winter sport of luge, or was it the skeleton bob? Mmmm, anyone know the difference (rhetorical, please!). Yes, great achievement but it begs the where-are-they-now sort of question and would anyone recognise her if they tripped over her. I think not. I don’t know a thing about Mark Cavendish (though his surname sounds very posh and would be even posher if he double barrelled ith with St John or Smyth or something. Now THAT would give him the edge!).

    After I’ve dismissed all for one reason or another (and note I haven’t mentioned AP…..the Northern Ireland politics things might win it for him like G-Mac but I think his day for SPOTY has long gone. I’d agree with an earlier comment about a lifetime achievement award like Giggsy last year if AP was ever to win it). And if we rule out anyone who isn’t white for the reasons Matt alluded to in his article it leaves us with the 2010 Sports personality of the Year (note the small ‘p’) …………TOM DALY, or is that Tom Dailly or is it Tom Daley…………….

    For me, SPOTY is a waste of time and little more than an end of year knees-up for the BBC giving them the chance to appear to be a serious sports channel in the spotlight for once.

    Now, where is that phone number for voting on X Factor……………………………………

  16. Avatar
    Paul R says:

    I actually think Mark Cavendish would be a worthy winner. Especially after his tearful little episide in the Tour de France, but with that on ITV4 (!) he has absolutely zero chance. McCoy is worthy but at 11/10 he has to be a lay. Westwood or McDowell are both decent prices.

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