‘How the Sports Personality of the Year nominations show women’s fight for equality has a way to go yet’
Jockey Hollie Doyle’s inclusion among the Sports Personality of the Year nominees unveiled yesterday is totally justified - she has had a phenomenal year.
Being the only female on the list is less welcome, however, and an indication of how far women still have to go in terms of visibility and recognition in top level sport.
After an all-male list of nominees was unveiled for SPOTY in 2011, the BBC changed the way the list was put together, moving away from the model of 30 journalists pitching their top ten and replacing it with an ‘expert panel’.
But in the nine years since, just 29 of the 90 nominees have been female athletes (if you take alpine skier Kelly Gallagher and her guide Charlotte Evans as one nomination) and on no occasion have females made up 50% of nominees.
And while nobody is suggesting that female athletes should be on the list for anything but their achievements, a look at yesterday’s field suggests it’s anything but even.
Sports Personality of the Year 2020 nominees: Lewis Hamilton, Stuart Broad, Jordan Henderson, Hollie Doyle, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Tyson Fury
Ronnie O’Sullivan’s nomination comes off the back of his sixth triumph at The Crucible 2020. Reigning Women’s World Snooker Champion Reanne Evans has never made the SPOTY shortlist despite winning twice as many world titles.
Jordan Henderson’s nomination for captaining Liverpool to their first Premier League title in 30 years is an incredible achievement, but so is Lucy Bronze’s instrumental contribution to Lyon’s fifth successive Champions League title.
The England full-back was also named BBC Women's Footballer of the Year for a second time, yet that was still not enough to get the SPOTY nod.
Others can feel overlooked.
England rugby star Emily Scarratt, for instance, led the Red Roses to a second consecutive Six Nations Grand Slam and was crowned the inaugural player of the championship.
British cyclist Lizzie Deignan was another who could have joined a lonely Hollie Doyle on the shortlist.
The former world road race champion has this year won a string of prestigious races, including the GP de Plouay, La Course and Liege-Bastogne-Liege as well as finishing top of the UCI Women's World Tour standings.
And the fear is that until the likes of Evans, Bronze, Scarratt and Deignan are given the level of visibility afforded to their male counterparts, nothing will change.
SPOTY’s ‘expert panel’ will clearly have less footage of female athletes to study, while the public, called upon to cast their popular vote, will hardly have seen any of them, if indeed heard of them.
Hence a parade of winners such as Andrew Flintoff, Andy Murray and Ben Stokes - all of them so familiar to us, their votes are a foregone conclusion.
But the argument is not exclusive to gender. Men participating in so-called fringe sports have also paid the price of ‘obscurity’.
Chris Froome finished sixth (with less than four per cent of the vote) at the 2015 awards despite becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France twice, while Andy Murray scooped the prize for a second time for Great Britain’s Davis Cup win.
While debate may rage over the greater achievement, there is no doubt the overwhelming amount of coverage dedicated to the Scot - along with the nation’s emotional connection to his career (which again is facilitated by the extensive media coverage) - paved the way for a SPOTY hat-trick in just four years.
Zara Tindall was the last female to take the top prize in 2006 after winning the Eventing World Championship. Since then, a female has accounted for just seven of SPOTY’s 39 podium spots - and four of them were Jessica Ennis-Hill.
Triathlete Alistair Brownlee’s second successive Olympic gold medal in 2016 earned him the runner-up spot in SPOTY four years ago, while Nicola Adams’ second successive boxing gold earned her 13th place with just one per cent of the public’s vote.
Not many would argue with England’s World Cup-winning cricketer Ben Stokes taking home last year’s SPOTY prize.
But even fewer would be aware of Anya Shrubsole posting bowling figures of 6-46 in England women’s 2017 World Cup final victory. She came ninth in that year’s awards with less than three per cent of the vote.
We have a long way to go before equality as a goal even reaches the halfway line.
In the meantime we should celebrate Holly Doyle being in the final six and, while also congratulating the other five nominees, hope unashamedly it is she who is first past the post.
The BBC Sports Personality of the Year will be broadcast live on December 20