There is a scene in The Office in which David Brent is asked about his biggest disappointment. “Alton Towers,” he replies immediately, without even a hint of irony. This Sunday sees the annual BBC sporting back-slap, Sports Personality of the Year. I, of course, will be watching, but this year am determined not to allow the programme to be my personal Madame Tussauds.
It’s an important night for me. I once watched the awards online from an internet café in Southern Chile, hitting F5 furiously. Another year it was the catalyst to end a 5-year relationship with a girlfriend (we had agreed to go and see her parents only on the basis that we were home in time for SROTY – as it was then – to start; by the time we left their house the ‘funnies’ were in progress and Frank Bruno was taking a penalty).
Each year my hopes rise as the evocative theme music hovers above shots of sports celebs arriving at BBC TV Centre/Birmingham NEC/Liverpool Echo Arena, but 120 minutes later the programme has left me with a sinking pit of despair in my stomach.
Part of the problem is the smugness of the whole thing. More importantly, I always forget that there will be little sport on the show. The main problem, however, is that sport and personality stopped having any relationship at some point between 1986 and 1992, the two years in which Nigel Mansell has his name engraved on the rather odd trophy.
The award is neither genuinely for sporting merit (see 2006), or for being popular with the Great British public (see 1997). It seems to be for someone who has been involved in doing something good in sport, in a pleasant-enough way.
This year Lewis Hamilton is second favourite to Rebecca Adlington. I think Hamilton will win, but have no rationale for this other than the fact that a large number of people seem to like Grand Prix, and Hamilton’s victory was the zenith of drama in that particular sport. Of course, I don’t really care, and therefore won’t actually vote, unless I become incensed about any more negative treatment of Christine Ohuruogu (of the 28 publications asked to submit short-lists of ten, the following did not select Ohuruogu: The Sunday Times, The Herald, The Sunday Express, The People, Daily Star Sunday, The Sun, The Belfast Telegraph, The Times and the News of the World. This is the Christine Ohuruogu who won GB’s only gold in the athletics in the Olympics, who also happens to be World Champion, and whose performance in Bejing was mesmerising – and had me shouting at the telly).
I want a two-hour programme that reviews the best sport of the last year. Which is exactly why SPOTY will no doubt once again leave me thinking more of Lapland New Forest than Disney World.