As next week’s ceremony draws closer, sportswomen all over Britain have been voicing their outrage at the announcement that all the contenders for this year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year award are male. Why, in 2011, is women’s sport still viewed as second class to men’s?
Let’s consider the possibility that the choices of nominees are justified. After all, I am not saying that there should have been five women and five men nominated just for the sake of equality. Rory McIlroy won the US Open by 8 shots (the largest margin since Tiger Woods in 2000) and shot the lowest Open score in history, Alastair Cook played a major role in both the Ashes in January and England’s whitewash of India this summer, while Mo Farah had huge success in the World Athletics Championships this year. But why, for example, does Andy Murray feature on the shortlist? He still hasn’t won a Grand Slam. Is it really fair to have three golfers? Does Amir Khan deserve to feature, not having beaten many high profile boxers this year (along with recently losing his WBA and IBF titles, albeit after the announcement of the nominees)?
For me, there are a handful of women who should have featured on the list. What about Chrissie Wellington, the four-time ironman triathlon champion? Or Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington, winner of a gold medal at the World Swimming Championships earlier this year? Keri-Anne Payne also won gold in the 10k open water event and was named as the first member of the 2012 British Olympic team. Payne wrote on Twitter: ‘It is a shame there are no women on the SPOTY list but good luck to the boys! We don’t need awards just the support from the Great British public!’ Sarah Stevenson, who brought home the world title for taekwondo for the second time whilst knowing both her parents had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, was also overlooked. I’m not saying the sentimental part of her story should have granted her an appearance on the shortlist but she doesn’t seem to have even been considered.
Ironically, I believe that the all-male shortlist for SPOTY has been a positive thing for women’s sport. It has flagged up the issue of the amount of media coverage given to women’s sport and turned it into a hotly debated topic. Athletes such as Wellington, Adlington and Payne are now on the public’s radar, whereas without this controversy, if any of the above female athletes had been contenders they would have disappeared without trace when it came to the public vote, a point proven by the fate of Christine Ohuruogu in 2007 who racked up just 0.71 % of the vote and came last. Let’s see how Dai Greene fares this year, having exactly the same achievements to his name as Ohuruogu did in 2007.
Inadvertently, this shameful, sexist announcement has done women’s sport a huge favour. And it could not have come at a better time; the London 2012 Olympics offers female athletes a wonderful opportunity. It is their time to shine, to compete alongside their male colleagues and prove themselves worthy of the media coverage they deserve.