Belfast Telegraph

Time BBC Sports Personality of the Year show was put out of its misery

So Rory McIlroy's not popular enough, but that doesn't explain how snooker and boxing fare so badly

By Gail Walker

It's certain to be the least meaningful competition of his illustrious career - for all the hullabaloo the broadcaster whips up - but Rory McIlroy would have cause to feel dismayed by the outcome of the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year. That he won't feel dismayed is a tribute to his fortitude and good humour, another sign of the pre-eminence he holds in his global sport, while the BBC event lurches ever deeper into parochialism.

The Beeb's attitude to SPOTY as a significant sporting accolade was thrown into relief during the 2012 London Olympics when practically every British winner was barely over the line before commentators were cooing over their chances of winning "the big one". That year McIlroy, who'd won the PGA title - the youngest player to win two Majors since Ballesteros - the Ryder Cup and the Tour Championship, was nominated but didn't win. As indeed he didn't in 2011 when he'd become the youngest US Open winner since 1923.

This year McIlroy won two further Majors including the Open Championship - with Nicklaus and Woods, the youngest to win three by the age of 25, and another Ryder Cup to boot.

Of course, as those embarrassed by fans' disquiet at the eccentricity of the Beeb's award will thunder, it's a public vote. This does appear to be a clincher. After all, even the Beeb will confess reluctantly that it's not really about sporting prowess but "popularity".

So, Rory's just not popular enough. But that doesn't really explain how horse-racing, boxing and snooker fare so badly in the SPOTY rankings. And, certainly it doesn't explain how minority sports like equestrianism or cycling - which won two years in a row - managed to record such high popularity ratings.

This is where the medium and its attitudes come in to play. The BBC, like other broadcasters, is predisposed to hype the glamour of a particular sport as well as its coverage of it. As the current broadcaster for Formula One, the Beeb puts considerable effort into pumping the air for its many hours of live coverage. Horse racing, by and large, has moved to other providers, as has boxing and, it's true, golf.

Though McIlroy's achievements cannot be ignored - in the way "foreign" winners of "foreign" golf tournaments routinely are - any more than McDowell's or Clarke's can be, there's no doubt glasses would be raised with more gusto were the multi-Major winner from Hampshire rather than Holywood.

That's only natural. The same mood coloured English attitudes to Andy Murray, the 2013 winner (failed in 2011 and 2012, when he won the US Open and Olympic gold). It took him to win Wimbledon before he was welcomed into the embrace of SPOTY. And that was tennis, with Wimbledon on BBC for a fortnight!

To pretend that public opinion isn't coloured by the frequency of TV coverage and its tone is a nonsense.

Of course, there won't be anyone involved or interested in golf who won't have been rooting for McIlroy in SPOTY.

It's one of those rare sports where raw, glorious talent is saluted with noble aplomb. To have his particular talent recognised more widely - a phenomenon which comes around once every three generations - would have been a boost to the whole sport. But the BBC's investment in golf is not what it was. Hence, it doesn't bang on about it the way it does about F1, which helps drive up viewing figures and justify the vast expense of securing the TV rights.

For these reasons, it would be best if the Beeb abandoned SPOTY. Showing self-regarding documentaries about the history of SPOTY - as it did on BBC2 the night of the awards - gives a wrong sense of the occasion. The Beeb has changed radically from the days of David Coleman, Harry Carpenter and Frank Bough. The idea the award represents something of a "national" accolade no longer holds true, no matter how many thousands are crammed in a vast arena at feepayers' expense.

The voting is skewed, not by malice but not by accident either. It is skewed by money. By the cost of purchasing rights to certain sports at the expense of others and the relentless flogging of sports product in every medium possible by the Corporation to viewers who still regard it as an institution like the health service and the Post Office.

F1 wins this year, because it is F1 the BBC has spent most on, financially and spiritually.

Had Lewis not won what they call the "World" Championship - it's a freak sport in the US, for example - Rory might have been promoted more fully as some kind of feelgood factor. But the combination of an English winner with F1 was just too much.

Still, Rory will be winning Majors long into the future, when this year's F1 cars are rusting and outdated. I doubt if SPOTY will get a chance again to salute true sporting genius, though.

The Beeb will never get their hands on the global coverage of golf.

Follow me on Twitter: @GWalker9

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