Belfast Telegraph

BBC Sports Personality of the Year is an elitist, flag-waving beauty contest

If you're a working-class boxing hero from Belfast, you haven't a chance, according to Fionola Meredith

Carl Frampton thinks that if he was English, he would have made it on to the shortlist of the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year. I think he's right. As a working-class boxer from Northern Ireland, his face simply didn't fit.

Frampton may be a two-weight world champion, and the winner of the WBA World Featherweight title, but even these impressive achievements were never going to be enough to get him on to the line-up of contenders.

Why? Well, to be included on the shortlist for SPOTY (to use the silly acronym), you have to be considered capable of stirring up deep flag-waving patriotism among the British public.

The BBC is reluctant to tell us who's on the mysterious judging panel, or even who chooses it, let alone give us any in-depth details about the criteria used for selection.

One thing we do know is that there's nobody from Northern Ireland on the panel, not that it would have necessarily made any difference if there had been.

What's clear is that actual talent, and demonstrable achievement, only count if the sportsman or woman in question has that Rule Britannia quality, as a recognisable projection of national pride.

"Don't let us pretend that (SPOTY) has ever been an honest reflection of the best and most loved in British sport", says the sportswriter Ian Herbert.

"It is actually a reflection of who does well in the great set-piece sporting events - those occasions where the Great British public can whip out the bunting or attach Union flags to their wing mirrors."

As far as the rest of the UK is concerned, Northern Ireland may as well be on the moon, and the BBC's autocratic dismissal of our star sportspeople is symptomatic of that indifference.

Quite simply, they don't recognise us as one of their own. We don't make them want to attach flags to their wing mirrors, or get the bunting flying. To them, Frampton is just another Belfast boxer.

They don't care about Jonathan Rea, our double world Superbike champion. Even the tremendous abilities of Bethany Firth, Team GB's most decorated Paralympian at the Rio Games, failed to catch the collective eye of the SPOTY panel, though Paralympians who won fewer medals were somehow considered worthy of inclusion on the shortlist.

The Irish Sea is more than a physical divide; it also represents a cultural barrier that is far harder to breach.

Of course, in complaining so loudly about being left out, we risk reinforcing the impression that we are a noisy, childish, querulous bunch, forever getting offended and jumping up and down about something or other, shouting in guttural tones that nice ladies from Cheltenham or Tunbridge Wells find hard to understand.

True, we can get a bit chippy and paranoid about any perceived slur against one of our own. It's a provincial inferiority complex, hidden behind the proud front we present to the world.

But in this instance, we're quite right to call foul on the SPOTY shortlist.

Yes, it's only a telly sports competition, with fleeting news value, but still, the snub is so blatant.

Our television licenses cost exactly the same as those across the water, yet what we seem to be paying for is a realisation of their fantasies of Empire.

Not that I'm particularly impressed by the DUP's showboating on the issue, with Arlene Foster harrumphing about the "absolutely scandalous" omission of Frampton and Co, and Paul Givan firing off an outraged letter to the director of BBC Sport.

This smacks of cheap populism and opportunistic vote-boosting, rather than a principled stand.

It also serves to divert attention away from other more pressing political priorities, like the £50million hole in the education budget, say, or the fact that you might die waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

As Carl Frampton and everybody else expects, Andy Murray will no doubt be crowned King SPOTY for the third time in four years.

He may be Scottish, and a bit dour, but he plays the safely middle-class sport of tennis rather well, and can thus be co-opted as a suitable avatar of national pride.

By presenting such a flagrantly partisan shortlist the BBC Sports Personality of the Year competition emerges as a patriotically skewed and elitist beauty pageant, rather than an authentic celebration of the UK's greatest sporting achievers.

Let them get on with their jingoistic sham-show. Frampton, Rea and Firth are not missing out.

Belfast Telegraph


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