Let’s begin with a quiz question: name the British athletes who retained their world title this year with a comfortable victory – their 28th in a row – to remain the reigning Olympic, European and world champions in their sport? Here’s a clue: you won’t read their names on the Sports Personality of the Year award shortlist.
In May this year, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning became the world, Olympic and European record holders in their sport. In September they raced in the final of the World Championships, led from start to finish and received praise from no less of an authority than Sir Steve Redgrave, who said: “Glover and Stanning dominate any combination that is put up against them.” But, when the list of contenders for the Sports Personality award was released on Monday, their names were absent.
Let’s be realistic, this has not been an exceptional year for British sport, like 2012. Andy Murray is the favourite to win the award after excelling in a tournament few of us were thrilled by – be honest, do you know who won the Davis Cup last year or the year before? – until this weekend. Murray’s performances in the “World Cup of tennis” were astounding and maybe the Davis Cup warrants more attention than it usually receives, but if he can be the bookies’ favourite without winning a grand slam this season, athletes such as Glover and Stanning deserve to be among the 12 nominees.
Glover and Stanning are not the only world champions to have been overlooked. At the end of last year Anthony Crolla was fighting for his life after being attacked by burglars in his neighbourhood. One of the thieves dropped a slab of concrete on to the young boxer’s head, fracturing his skull and breaking his ankle. Crolla spent the first few months of the year waiting for his body to heal. By the end of the year he has recovered fully, regained his confidence and won a world title fight by knockout. After winning the WBA lightweight title last month, Crolla said: “I made a promise when I was in my hospital bed that I would come back bigger and stronger and I believe I have that’s what I have done.” If that’s not personality, what is?
Perhaps Glover, Stanning and Crolla were overlooked as their sports exist on the periphery of our national conversation. The same could be said for Danny Kent, who became Britain’s first motorcycle grand prix world champion since Barry Sheene in 1977, or the speedway rider Tai Woffinden, but household names were also missed off the list of contenders. Gareth Bale, whose remarkable run of goals led Wales to their first major international tournament since 1958, Joe Root, the No1 ranked batsman in the world who helped England retain the Ashes this summer, and Wayne Rooney, who broke an England goalscoring record that had stood for nearly 50 years, were all left off the list. Who do you think deserves a place among the top 12 for 2015?