It’s a real shame that there are no female athletes in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist, announced this morning. But what struck me about the all-male list is just how little resemblance it bears to the reality of modern British sport. Some of the nominees don’t even play sport at all.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that a working definition of sport would include a bit of running about as well as a bit of technique. A damp brow at the very least. But not so, say the compilers of the SPotY shortlist, who have put three golfers (Darren Clarke, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy) in the running for the prize.
Now, when I typed “golf is” into Google this morning, the first phrase suggested for completing my query was “not a sport.” This is something that I have long suspected, and now at last I feel less alone. It’s a game, of course, and it requires a great deal of skill. But so does chess. And physical prowess, while helpful, isn’t crucial to the successful completion of a competitive game of golf. Let’s just say a generous gut doesn’t always look out of place on the 18th fairway, and Darren Clarke himself is well known for smoking cigars while on the course. Also, there is actually such a thing as “fitness golf.” As a rudimentary classification system for whether someone is eligible for Sports Personality of the Year, I propose that there should, at the very least, not exist a different version of their “sport” preceded by the word “fitness.”
But just when I was getting hot under the collar about golf, I found the longlists for the competition. It’s slightly annoying that Nuts and Zoo are both allowed to submit nominations (and, unsurprisingly, neither nominated any women), but Zoo suggested Judd Trump—a snooker player. Snooker is not only a game that sounds like something you might do to make a baby giggle; it’s a game that most people actually play more effectively while drunk. Is it only classed as a sport because it’s something that might be on TV in a pub?
Women who play real sport really should be represented in place of those wielding clubs and cues, even if only because, as The Times reported over the weekend, British women are now the fattest in Europe. Surely a culture of well-represented women’s sport would demonstrate that it’s not unladylike to kick a ball around once in a while? And as the ancient Greeks would tell us, sport requires speed, strength and skill. It’s physical activity combined with honed technique and quick decision-making under pressure.
In a competition that has a huge impact on the public’s view of British sport, it’s insulting that lads’ mags are allowed to have a say in shunning the achievements of the likes of Keri-Anne Payne, 2011 world champion open water swimmer, in favour of pub games and weekend walks. And what about Sarah Stevenson, who became world Taekwondo champion this year? Or Ironman Triathlon world champion Chrissie Wellington? In their next list, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year organiser should take heed of Mel Gibson’s ad exec in What Women Want: “No games. Just sports.”