What criteria should determine Sports Personality of the Year?

What criteria should determine Sports Personality of the Year?

VAVEL investigates what constitutes the number one Sportsperson in Britain.

chris-lincoln
Chris Lincoln

World number one tennis player Andy Murray was the clear favourite to take the BBC Sports Personality of the Year title, following a remarkable 12 months that saw him win Wimbledon and an Olympic gold medal.

The Scotsman duly delivered with twice as many votes as his nearest rival, triathlete Alistair Brownlee, but what are the public looking for when they decide on their vote for the prestigious trophy? VAVEL investigates as the man labelled as having "a lack of personality" wins a record third Sports Personality of the Year Award.

Representing the Olympic Values

The event itself encompasses an inspirational review of a year of British sporting success. 2016 was one of the best yet, with numerous World Champions from the Home Nations crowned and a record medal haul in both the Olympics and Paralympics in Brazil. 16 nominees were touted as worthy contenders, as notable absentees such as Tour de France winner Chris Froome did not even make the shortlist.

Each member of the final selection had won a trophy or medal in their own right across the past 12 months. Yet the British public loves a memorable and inspirational story and that may add value to two members of the top three. At 58-years old, showjumper Nick Skelton became Britain's second oldest Olympic gold medalist at the seventh attempt. However, what makes Skelton's achievement even more remarkable is that he had previously retired from the sport after breaking his neck in two places.

Alistair Brownlee has not encountered such trials and tribulations but his story went global in a World Series race several weeks after he won Olympic gold. Alistair ran round a corner to find younger brother Jonathan suffering with heat exhaustion. It was at that point that Alistair hooked himself under his brother and helped him to the line before pushing Jonathan over the finish before him to achieve valuable points.

Are medals everything?

Despite Skelton and Brownlee representing true Olympic values, you could argue that they had less successful years than a handful of athletes who did not even get considered for the shortlist. The pair achieved a gold medal apiece, though canoeist Liam Heath, diver Jack Laugher, dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin and cyclist Callum Skinner all achieved not just a gold, but also a silver.

If number of titles or medals alone should quantify the overall positions, then the results were way off the mark. Paralympic equestrian athlete Sophie Christiansen won three golds and finished fifth, despite her event barely receiving any television coverage due to funding cuts.

Even more remarkable is that Dame Sarah Storey achieved a similar feat in cycling to become Britain's most successful Paralympian ever, but finished a lowly 15th with just 3,580 votes. Jason Kenny also made history as his hat-trick of golds made him the joint most decorated British Olympian, yet finished a surprising 10th overall.

The public love an athlete they can relate to. Yet despite Kenny's humble and down-to-earth nature, some may consider him in the same bracket as Murray when it comes to level of entertaining interviews. However, Jason's wife Laura Kenny is one for the cameras, though still only finished 8th despite her two golds taking her to the heights of most successful female British Olympian ever.

Twelve months or two hours?

The entirety of the year is also an interesting talking point when deciding who has undertaken the most successful 12 months. You could argue that the likes of Murray and Gareth Bale have performed and achieved at the highest level in elite competition for the whole period. 

On the other hand, the 12 Olympic or Paralympic nominees achieved their main feats within a period of one or two weeks. In Max Whitlock's case, it was two golds in the space of as many hours. Although they have experienced a four year training cycle to reach their goals, can they be considered in the same bracket as those athletes who have to perform at the highest level all year round?

Similarly in the Team of the Year category, the England rugby union team completed an unbeaten season, whilst the remarkable Leicester City have struggled for form since their Premier League triumph in May. The latter won the award after a shock 5,000-1 win, but have they been better than England rugby across the whole yer?

Such a thought process also relates to the level of competition. Each sport requires a different skill set so it is hard to judge one against another. Similarly, is it possible to analyse Paralympic achievements against those of their Olympic colleagues?

Adaptability is key for some

Yet there are some remarkable athletes that are able to combine and translate different abilities to more than one sport. Alistair Brownlee competes in an event that incorporates the talents required by Mo Farah, Jason Kenny and Adam Peaty. In a straight race against all three, Brownlee is likely to come off second best in each of them. However, being able to combine the trio of running, cycling and swimming must add extra weight to his individual achievements.

Brownlee's triathlon is recognised overall as a singular sport, though one nominee did earn Paralympic gold in two separate events. Kadeena Cox won gold in the cycling time trial and the same prize in the 400m sprint, with a bronze in the 100m to add to her trophy cabinet. All of the other contenders for Sports Personality of the Year may have been the best in their own sport, yet Cox proved this to be the case for her in two. Some may argue this is worthy of being number one, though the 25-year old only finished 14th overall.

Inspirational team members

Then comes the consideration of individual and team sports. Jamie Vardy, Gareth Bale and Kate Richardson-Walsh all won medals standing shoulder to shoulder with their teammates. However, could Vardy win the Premier League without Riyad Mahrez, Bale the Champions League without Cristiano Ronaldo, or Kate Richardson-Walsh an Olympic gold without goalscoring hero and partner Helen?

Despite the support of their colleagues, the trio were undoubtedly inspirational figures within their teams and deserved their place on the shortlist, but can you compare the achievements of a team member compared to an individual for such an award?

Their also must be considerable weighting in an underdog and role model story. Like Vardy, golfer Danny Willett stunned the World, becoming the first British winner of the Masters for 20 years. All of the nominees could be considered role models but boxer Nicola Adams has done so much for female sport after retaining her Olympic title and inspiring her fellow gender, alongside the likes of Laura Kenny and Kate Richarson-Walsh.

The question in the forefront of the voting public's decision is how you weigh up each of the achievements outlined for all 16 outstanding athletes. Everyone will be of a different thought process and that is part of the beauty of sport. Without the relevant debates and personal opinions, sport would be half the beautiful artifact it represents today.

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