When tickets go on sale a week today for the annual BBC Sports Personality of the Year, the Corporation may find it easier to sell all 12,000 than to come up with a list of 10 sport stars worthy of the shortlist for the award.
The British sporting year has so far been generally underwhelming, and competition for the coveted prize has been cooling down rapidly since the England football team departed the World Cup in miserable circumstances (the most likely recipient from the round ball game is Paul Scholes, a man who decided not to take part).
The highs of the Twenty20 cricket World Cup have long since been muddied, Flushing Meadow did for perennial possibility Andy Murray, and Button or Hamilton still have five Grand Prix standing between another evening spent in the company of swimmers and gymnasts (and bear in mind that both have failed to secure the SPOTY award in their World Championship year).
There have, of course, been some fine performances. Athletes Mo Farah and Jess Ennis will surely register on the shortlist, but their time is two years hence. Graeme McDowell is certain to feature, despite his exploits at Pebble Beach remaining oddly unheralded – he will need to win the Ryder Cup single-handedly whilst juggling Tiger Woods and Leftie Phil, preferably in a ball-gown, to be taken to the heart of the BBC viewers (that’ll teach him to win the US Open during a World Cup and Wimbledon).
All of which leads to the strong possibility that – excepting a Webber/Alonso/Vettel meltdown – the winner will come from a sport yet to be represented in more than 50 years of the award: National Hunt racing, or, deep breath, darts.
Jump jockey Tony McCoy is currently the bookies favourite for the award, and they know a bit about horses and betting. His fifteenth consecutive champion jockey title is largely irrelevant to this audience, but the famous first Grand National victory in April, on his fifteenth ride in the world’s most famous race, is a wonderful story.
Recent Sports Personality Awards have thrown up surprises, however, although none would be so substantial as Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor leaving Birmingham on December 19 with the SPOTY trophy tucked into his darts case (particularly as the event takes place on the fourth day of the World Championship).
Taylor was amongst the nominations in 2006, but that remains his only look-in. The bookies have him at fourth favourite, at 6-1 with some, but the titan of tungsten has an additional hurdle to jump before he can challenge McCoy – to receive enough nominations to reach the shortlist in the first instance.
Of the 26 sports newspaper and magazine experts chosen to nominate 10 deserving stars in 2009, only 3 included the then World, Players, UK Open, Desert Classic, Matchplay, Grand Prix, European & Grand Slam darts champion. Beth Tweddle had 17 nominations.
Negative attitudes towards the sport of darts, from the broadsheets in particular, remain fairly entrenched, but they are increasingly out of sync with the public as a whole. Despite not having competed on the BBC since the early 1990s Taylor has a phenomenal fan-base. It is not entirely fanciful that the online world – lead by a gushing Stephen Fry – could generate momentum similar to that for Ryan Giggs in 2009.
If anyone needs persuading, Taylor has this year won his 11th World
Matchplay, regained the Premier League title, is unbeaten on TV since
January, and, in June, became the first man to hit two 9-darters in the
same match. In a piece of symmetry that would make William G Stewart proud, Taylor
even matches McCoy as champion of his sport – victory at Alexandra
Palace in January was his fifteenth World Championship.
Of course, the SPOTY award is not about personality, or even really about sporting
success in a particular year; it is about capturing the mood of the
public at a particular time. A working men’s winner in a year of frugality? Perhaps. Certainly to exclude The Power in 2010 would be an injustice outweighed only by a lack of recognition for A P McCoy.
Suggestions for your 2010 SPOTY ten are welcome. Here’s my six plus one: McCoy, Taylor, McDowell, Farah, Ennis, Swann –and Button or Hamilton.