Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Gotta Have Personality

It is rather ironic that, in the year the BBC moved their Sports Personality of the Year shindig from the cosy confines of Broadcasting House to the cavernous, 3000-capacity NEC in Birmingham, it should be presented with the limpest shortlist of contenders in recent memory, following one of the Brits' poorest sporting years in some time.

"Poppycock!", cry the champions of minority pursuits, fond as they are of quaint admonishments. "Did not Nicole Cooke win the women's Tour de France and top the road race world rankings this year?", they say, indignantly.

"That's not all! Beth Tweddle overcame the disability of having a silly name to win a world gymnastics gold medal in the uneven bars! And what about Zara Phillips, herself bravely surmounting the handicap of several generations of inbred British royal blood to win the world three day eventing gold, Gawd bless you Ma'am?"

"Wot about Ricky 'atton and Joe Calzaghe?" piped up a flat nosed fellow in the back; "Ricky won the WBA world welterweight title, and Calzaghe took the WBO and IBF super-middleweight belts after what was described as one of the best performances by a British boxer ever."

"Then you've got Phil 'The Power' Taylor," belches a portly fellow in a silk shirt holding a pint glass. "Isn't it time the 13-times World Darts Champion got some proper recognition outwith the bounds of the Circus Tavern, Purfleet?"

"Surely that high-achieving bunch make up for the runts of the litter: one-Grand-Prix-win-in-113 attempts Jenson Button," they declare in unison, "world no.17 tennis player Andrew Murray and the cricketer who can't get a game ahead of Drop the Ashes-ley Giles."

No, my poorly-catered-for-by-the-media friends. For, you see, this is a sports personality contest. Which is why Darren Clarke, who won several important golf matches in September, will win the award for crying over the recent death of his wife in front of millions. Well, winning some important golf matches, then crying over the recent death of his wife in front of millions.

The BBC is a mass appeal television station (although the Ryder Cup was broadcast on Sky, but that's neither here nor there), in case you didn't know, and therefore deals heavily in broad, affecting images. Del Boy falling through a bar flap; Dirty Den being shot by a bouquet of flowers; the Queen on a horse. Snapshots of the nation in cultural congress.

The Sports Personality of the Year contest cares not for the minutiae of the tennis player's serving technique; it craves the climb into the centre court crowd toward aged relative. It has no interest in the laborious process of perfecting a gymnastic manouevre; it rejoices in the tearful waif with seven weighty gold medals around her neck. It yawns at consistency and doggedness; yelps in appreciation at emotion and spectacle.

Winners of previous years illustrate this. In 2001 David Beckham won the award for scoring one free kick in about forty-two attempts against Greece in that year's final World Cup qualifier. Second placed Ellen MacArthur only sailed around the world on her own - quite clearly an inferior achievement.
In general - or rather, in good years - the winner has achieved something worthwhile. But, more importantly, they will also have contributed a defining and timeless moment to a wide spread of the population. They will have made a lodgement in the collective bank of celebratory shared experience.
In a sparse year of sporting accomplishment across the water, Darren Clarke's public catharsis at the K Club was this year's most intensely affecting sporting image, which is why he will take the BBC's award and, while he's at it, any that are going on this island as well.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's your sports personality of the year: Sandie Gardiner,,30100-13546010,00.html?f=rss

Dedication like this is an example to us all, may we all be inspired. Thing is though, although she's English, she won't get it, she was representing France. fix

11:18 a.m.  

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