Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Why brilliant Rea deserved his moment of recognition at BBC Sports Personality of the Year

And why the Daily Mail should stop its sneering

Worthy recipient: Northern Ireland's Jonathan Rea displays his runner-up trophy at the SPOTY awards
Worthy recipient: Northern Ireland's Jonathan Rea displays his runner-up trophy at the SPOTY awards

By John Laverty

There's one thing predictable about SPOTY - and that is, it will always start a heated debate.

I've had my own issues with it down the years; Damon Hill, for instance, taking home the main award after not winning the F1 Championship in 1994.

Michael Owen topping the poll four years later for scoring a fine goal in a World Cup quarter-final that England actually lost - while another Three Lions international, Tony Adams, recovered from acute alcoholism to steer Arsenal to a league and cup double.

Ryan Giggs won Sports Personality - now there's a contradiction in terms - in 2009 for no apparent reason other than being Ryan Giggs.

Moreover, F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton should only be eligible for the 'overseas' award because, although he regularly drapes himself in the Union flag, his pride in the UK doesn't extend to paying any tax towards its upkeep.

This year the big contentious issue was boxer Anthony Joshua - who was 10-1 on with the bookies - not even making the top three.

The new world heavyweight champion could only watch as Sir Mo Farah - last seen losing a world title and subsequently retiring from track and field - was presented with the 2017 BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy, albeit via video link from his home because he didn't think he'd be in the running, so to speak.

But, as the late Hughie Green used to say on Opportunity Knocks, it's your votes that count. And those votes put Farah first, a mere 3,000 or so ahead of our own Jonathan Rea.

And that's when the sneering really started. Predictably, most of it came from the Daily Mail, who couldn't get over a sportsperson with such a low profile doing so well in a national poll.

The paper's sneerer-in-chief Jeff Powell claimed that the three-time world Superbike champion was the beneficiary of "bloc-balloting" - which, even if true, wasn't a crime the last time I looked.

The ageing Powell then let himself down - and displayed his crass ignorance - by suggesting that JR "spends most of his time riding motorbikes around Northern Ireland".

Give it up Jeff, it's over. But before you go, remind your colleagues that their newspaper's hypocrisy is execrable; on the one hand, they castigate people for refusing to accept the public vote on Brexit, while on the other they rail against a public vote for the nation's favourite sportspeople.

At least the BBC weren't sniffy about the Ballyclare man's recognition; legend has it that another king of two wheels, speedway's Ivan Mauger, actually topped the poll five times in the Seventies, only to be denied glory because, as the organisers pointed out, speedway isn't shown on the BBC.

Neither, these days, are so many other important sports - including Superbikes. One shudders to think how bad a show this would be if Auntie was as restrictive now as it was then.

Sure, you can still roll your eyes at some of the results - as I already have - and, indeed, my principal gripe this year came even before the voting when rugby star Owen Farrell, who had a brilliant season with Saracens, England and the Lions, didn't even make the SPOTY shortlist.

But, notwithstanding that incomprehensible omission, there's a reason why Britain is leaving the EU, why Donald Trump is in the White House and why Prime Minister Theresa May is now relying on the DUP to keep her in power.

It's called democracy...

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