Belfast Telegraph

SPOTY changes harm Jonathan Rea's chances as BBC 'feathers ruffled', claims former MCN editor

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
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

The BBC has rejected claims that changes being made to the Sports Personality of the Year award have been made in response to Jonathan Rea's run to second place last season.

The World Superbike champion came in less than 3,000 votes behind 2017 winner Mo Farah, after 80,567 votes were cast for the Ballyclare rider.

It followed a public campaign to ensure Rea was nominated for the award for the first time after winning his third consecutive world title.

This year, a fourth superbike crown has followed, again leading to calls for Rea to make it onto the BBC shortlist.

Last year, the nominees announcement revved up a campaign by bike fans and Northern Ireland sports fans to get as many votes as possible for their candidate.

However, that won't be possible this time round as the shortlist will only be revealed during the course of the BBC's SPOTY live programme on Sunday, December 16 at Birmingham's Genting Arena.

Former MCN editor and current editor of Carole Nash’s social face Inside Bikes, Marc Potter, questioned the decision.

“There is concern that this will be seen as an attack on under-represented sports and that an editorial decision has triumphed over a sporting one," he said.

“Jonathan’s success last year seems to have ruffled some feathers at the BBC as he did not conform with their perception of who should have filled the top spots.

“Not only can his individual achievements not be ignored, but the magnitude of support for motorcycling in this country cannot be underestimated either. Take events like the Isle of Man TT for example – viewing figures show that over 30 million people worldwide are watching UK bike events, with UK bike fans tuning in in their droves 1. Where motorcycling suffers is coverage in mainstream newspapers, which may lead people to think certain sports are unpopular when the opposite is true.

“By trying to alter the process and harming the chances of under-represented sportsmen and women, the BBC is effectively disregarding a number of key players like Jonathan just because they are not always featured in the back pages.”

However, the BBC have denied any suggestions the changes are designed to ensure a mainstream winner.

"We have chosen to announce contenders at the start of the programe to add another layer of excitement and anticipation to the evening," said a BBC statement.

"The nominees are determined by an independent panel and all achievements from all sports will be judged on merit. Having a shorter nominee list means there's more time within the programme to celebrate to a greater extent all the sporting moments of the year and to highlight the full breadth of British sport."

Rea is currently 23/1 to win this year's award. Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas is the 11/8 favourite, ahead of Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane at 11/4.

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