Susan Egelstaff: It’s time for SPOTY to be put in its place

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Growing up, the BBC Sports Celebrity of the Year was always my annual television highlight.

I never skipped a minute of the show that chronicled how the sports year had unfolded in detail. I was captivated, also by the rugby league and cricket segments.

After her win at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, I remember voting for Sally Gunnell, even though she ended up placing third behind Linford Christie and Nigel Mansell.

When Greg Rusedski won the prize ahead of Tim Henman in 1997, I recall being delighted because I always preferred the Canadian-born player to the Englishman.

And I recall being overjoyed when, after winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, I got invited to my first SPOTY in 2006.

I could hardly believe that night in 2006 that I was sitting among the great and good of British sport at an event I had adored for over a decade.

Former Scotland rugby captain Andy Nicol pointed out that night, during a discussion, a common occurrence that happens to almost everyone in the evening.

“No one makes eye contact with the person they’re talking to because they’re always looking over their shoulder for someone more famous to talk to,”No one makes eye contact with the person they are talking to because they are always looking over their shoulder for someone more famous to talk to.

The thing was, no matter who you were, only a few steps away, there was always someone more popular, such was the event’s appeal.

Oh, how the mighty ones fell. SPOTY is a mere shadow of its former self these days. And that puts that mildly.

The decline started when many big sports began to lose their rights to the BBC. While the show used to be able to show countless highlights of every sport, it is now stripped of the opportunity to showcase only the sports calendar’s bare essentials.

And the announcement of the SPOTY nominees this year made it clear how little support the event receives, in some circles at least.

The list of competitors competing for the top prize was announced by the BBC: snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan, cricketer Stuart Broad, footballer Jordan Henderson, jockey Hollie Doyle, Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton and boxer Tyson Fury.

After winning his seventh world title last month, Hamilton is the favorite of the bookies, but it is the final name on the list, Fury, who ensured that the event was first beset by chaos and then farce.

Based on his defeat to Deontay Wilder in February, which earned him the WBC heavyweight title, Fury was nominated.

On learning of his nomination, however, Fury issued a social media statement calling on the BBC to drop him from the shortlist.

He wrote on Instagram, “This is a message to BBC Sport and their SPOTY award – please take me off your list because I am the people’s champion and I don’t need endorsement or any awards,”

“I know who I am and what I have done in this sport. I have the love of the people, which means more to me than all the awards in the world. To all those who support me, do not vote.”

Confusion reigned for a few hours. After much BBC deliberation, however, it was revealed that Fury would remain on the shortlist and, if he wished, would be invited to take part in the programme.

It is easy to conclude, according to him, that Fury will not participate in the show, but is beside the point whether or not he does. His position emphasizes a wider mentality that actually no longer matters to SPOTY.

This is a major fall from grace for a display that was once one of the highlights of the year for athletes and fans alike. It seems almost unlikely that the award will ever recover its reputation, considering the lack of sports rights that the BBC has these days.

So maybe the most practical thing to do is to remove the SPOTY and leave it to those of us, who grew up with it and enjoyed it when it meant something, as a wet, nostalgic memory.

And more than one thing…

A welcome and timely boost for the sport in this country was the news last week that the British Indoor Athletics Championships would return to Glasgow in February.

In recent years, athletics has produced some of Scotland’s finest athletes, with Laura Muir being a household name in particular.

The sport will have a big event to look forward to, with the pandemic having decimated the athletics season this year.

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