Perhaps the oddest thing about the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award is that it matters – even though it cuts across everything sport is about, which is to sort out winners and losers in a completely indisputable way. You can’t disagree with who won the Grand National or the FA Cup final.
But every year, just before Christmas, we sit down and try to work it out: telly, telly, on the wall, who is the sportiest of them all? At last we have something indefinite and uncertain.
We generally choose someone who has done well in a sport that most of us watch in good numbers. But we’ve also got to like them. We are looking for someone with the matchless combination of being a winner and a good egg. They’re not always easy to find.
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Some years we get it wrong. But then, it can’t ever be fair: it’s not about who’s best, it’s about who we like the best, and that’s not necessarily the same thing. Who will you vote for this year? The runaway favourite is Anthony Joshua, the heavyweight champion of the world, who has a classic boxing-was-my-salvation backstory.
He would be a rum choice in some ways. Comparatively few of us have seen him box live, as his fights have only been on pay-per-view TV. So it would be an award for talking well and looking cool.
Lewis Hamilton (the 2014 winner) is reckoned by some to be the second favourite, after winning the Formula One drivers’ championship for the fourth time, a lofty achievement. Despite his sumptuous skills, though, especially on a wet track, he’s not universally loved – and I can never quite suppress the unworthy thought that the car does quite a lot of the work.
It’s not looking good for a female winner. World Cup-winning cricketer Anya Shrubsole is a long shot, as are taekwondo world champion Bianca Walkden and speed skater Elise Christie. Good luck to all three.
Recently knighted Mo Farah has never won, despite his golden record on the track. And the incredible, four-times Tour de France winner Chris Froome seems to leave the public curiously cold. Britain’s number one female tennis player, Johanna Konta, has been in poor form since Wimbledon. Which can’t remotely be said of Premier League top scorer Harry Kane or double Para world champion (and Strictly star) Jonnie Peacock.
The beauty of it is we can make mad claims for our favourites and ignore all those brilliant performers (such as world record-breaking and double world champion swimmer Adam Peaty or three-time world Super bike champion Jonathan Rea) in sports that we don’t often get round to watching.
If the award was in my gift – as it really should be – I’d give it to cricketer Jimmy Anderson. This year he became the first England bowler to take 500 Test wickets, a staggering record of stamina and skill. He’s a decent person as well. But he’s not on the shortlist – not because what he does isn’t worth much, but because cricket elected to become a minor sport when it sold out to satellite TV, beginning in 2006. It’s been about as many years since a cricketer won – Andrew Flintoff, in 2005.
What’s the worst choice we’ve ever made? In 2012, we gave it to Bradley Wiggins for having cute sideburns, when we should have rewarded Jessica Ennis for carrying the load of our hopes at the London Olympics. In 2001 David Beckham won it for his part in securing a draw with Greece.
In a way, we’re always wrong. So never mind who’s the best: choose the one you love the best. Of course it’s unfair: that’s the great charm of BBC Sports Personality.
BBC Sports Personality of the Year will come live from the Echo Arena in Liverpool on Sunday 17th December. Voting opens on the night.