Sports Personality of the Year – A Celebration of Sporting Achievement or Just Too Controversial?

The end of 2016 is rapidly approaching and it won’t be long before the nominees for this year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year are announced. The award has a history of courting controversy, so will it attract positive or negative press this year?

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year – Was Murray’s 2015 Win Overshadowed by the Fury Furore?

In 2015, Andy Murray won the award for the second time, having played a key role in the British Davis Cup squad’s historic victory earlier that year. Murray, who was presented with the award by former WBA and Lineal Featherweight boxing champion, Barry McGuigan, at Belfast’s SSE Arena, gained 35% of the votes, and claimed that he hadn’t expected to win.

“A friend sent me a message the other day with an article saying: ‘Andy Murray is duller than a weekend in Worthing,’ which I thought was a bit harsh – on Worthing,” he joked.

Former Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield, who retired from rugby earlier this year, was second, with 28 percent of the vote, while heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, who announced her retirement last week, finished in third place.

The Sports Personality of the Year ceremony should have been about celebrating the achievements of these sporting stars, as well as the winners of the other awards presented on the night, such as the Young Sports Personality of the Year Award, which was won by gymnast Ellie Downie, and the Unsung Hero Award, which went to Damien Lindsay, a football coach from West Belfast.

However, in the run-up to the event, most media coverage was about Tyson Fury, following allegations that he had made sexist and homophobic comments. More than 30,000 people signed a petition calling for the heavyweight boxer’s name to be removed from the shortlist, but the BBC refused.

According to the Guardian, Tony Hall, the Director General of the BBC, “said the controversial boxer had been put on the list for his “sporting prowess” and that he trusted the public to judge who should win the contest.”

Fury, who vacated his two heavyweight titles and had his boxing licence suspended pending anti-doping and medical issue investigations last week, eventually finished in fourth place.

The Nomination Process – What Other Issues Has It Caused?

Last year wasn’t the only time that Sports Personality of the Year nominations have come under fire either. In 2011, when the award’s ten-person strong nominee list was published, many were appalled to see that it didn’t include any women’s names.

Chrissie Wellington, who won her fourth Women’s Ironman Triathlon World Championship title that year, took to Twitter when the news was announced, saying that the decision was “disgraceful”.

At the time, thirty sports journalists each submitted ten names for consideration and the shortlist was produced from those submitted. Whilst the BBC stood by its selection panel’s decision, it changed the way the nominees were chosen the following year. Since then, the shortlist has been produced by a panel of experts, including BBC executives, former nominees and journalists.

In 2012, following the London Olympics, five of the twelve nominees were female but, in 2013, only two women made it onto the list. With so many women hitting the sporting headlines this year, it’s likely that the Olympic effect will ensure more of a gender balance in the nominations this year. However, are there issues with the final voting process too?

The Final Results – How Valid is the Result?

In one sense, as the Sports Personality of the Year winner is ultimately selected by a public vote, the result is always the right one – but could the outcome be influenced by the amount of media coverage given to particular stars and sports?

In 2009, for example, Ryan Giggs received the accolade for helping Manchester United to win the club’s eleventh Premiership title, but many would argue that his achievements that year had been far less impressive than those of, for example, Jenson Button, who finished second, despite having won the Formula One World Championship.

However, if it was all down to media coverage and the popularity of individual sports, surely footballers would top the winners’ table? In fact, only five footballers have ever received the honour, while athletics stars have won on seventeen occasions, so it could be simply that the voters know their own minds.

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