BBC Should be Shame Faced: 1st Year since 1954 No Women on Shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year 2011

Sarah Stevenson photo courtesy of Sarahstevenson.net

It was with bemused dismay that my husband and I heard the news that of the 10 athletes hailed for greatness as this year’s contenders for BBC Sports Personality of the Year, no women had even made the shortlist. Fortunately, we weren’t the only ones incredulous that in a year that saw women making huge strides in sport, 10 out of the 27 sports editors polled for the list couldn’t even find a single woman to add!

The BBC has quite rightly had egg on their face regarding this oversight and have plans to redress their nominations process – but we can’t just scratch our heads, like promotion boards have done all over the city when it comes to promoting professional women, and say: “The Ladies just weren’t up to it this year”.

Addressing how these decisions are made in the first place is invaluable.  As detailed by the Sports Writer for the Guardian,  Andy Bull “The BBC was quick to pass the buck to the panel of sports editors which it polled to make its selection, though it has not yet made it clear why it could find room for the views of what it calls the “very knowledgeable individuals” at Nuts and Zoo but not specialist sports magazines such as sportsister.com or womensportreport.com.”

Andy Bull points out that 10 of the 27 sports editors asked for comment could think of no women impressive enough to make the list. Manchester Evening News’s nominations were criticised for their parochialism – two of their nominations went to the Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov and the retired Manchester City midfielder Patrick Vieira.

Bull explained who some of this choices would have been; women worthy of inclusion for their sporting prowess, but also for what they overcame to reach their sporting goals. Surely in an era where we are encouraging more sports participation, those feats must be as inspirational as their individual records?

Bull explains:  “Let’s start with Sarah Stevenson, the taekwondo athlete. In May she won her third world title, beating the reigning Olympic champion. This same year she has lost her mother, to terminal cancer, and her father to a brain tumour. She said: “It helped that my parents wanted me to go to the world championships,” she said earlier this year. “I feel like I’ve got a switch in my head where one day I could be crying and wanting to go home, then I’m there to fight and win.”  The Guardian’s Donald McRae has just finished this extraordinary interview with her, and says he “cannot think of a single sporting figure in Britain who deserves recognition more”.

Bull continues with some of this favourite should-be female contenders: “Then there is Keri-Anne Payne, who became the first British athlete in any sport to qualify for the 2012 Olympics when she won the world 10km open swimming at the World Aquatic Championships, having battled past jellyfish, sharks and animal corpses along the way.

Rebecca Adlington also won gold at those championships, her first world title over long course, in the 800m. That makes her the reigning world and Olympic champion at the distance. Another 2011 world champion was Kath Grainger, the single most successful female rower in British history, with three Olympic silvers and six world championships golds. She won the latest of those in September, in the double sculls together with Anna Watkins. The two of them are still unbeaten in the event.

Grainger also happens to have an honours law degree from Edinburgh University, a master of philosophy degree in medical law from Glasgow University and is currently studying for a PhD in law at King’s College London.” Not exactly shoddy stuff – and a true reflection of the fact that female athletes have to prepare for other careers as the pay cheque from women’s sport ensures another day job is vital.

As explained by Laura Williamson in the an article in the Daily Mail entitled A Sad State of Affairs: It’s a Man’s World When it Comes to Women in Sport “We live in a society where the BBC deem it fitting to let magazines such as Nuts and Zoo vote for their most prestigious award (why not Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire if we’re going down that route?”

The criterion for naming Sports Personality is famously hazy, oscillating between rewarding genuine ‘personality’ and sporting success. ..But the definition is supposed to be ‘the sportsman or woman whose actions have most captured the public’s imagination’. For sportswomen to actually get into the public’s imagination would be a good starting point.”

In fact, while this is the first year since 1954 when there has been no woman on the shortlist (13 have won in that time) – why should we even accept having just one woman – rather than several? Ignoring the achievements of these women is simply not good enough, nor does it reflect what sports fans actually want to see.

Research carried out in 2010 also shows that 61% of sports fans would like to see more women’s sports, and that over half of all girls surveyed by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation agreed that watching successful sports stars encouraged them to take up sport.

So, for example, why aren’t teams that consistently reach world finals like the England Women’s Rugby Team, being covered? Money is a big issue. A report from the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport shows that only 0.5% of all sponsorship in the UK goes to women’s sport.

What’s so dismaying is that in the run-up to the Olympics, with all eyes on Britain – the BBC’s decision to feature a woman-free shortlist sends the message:  “No matter how fast you run, no matter how well you do, love – you’ll never be as inspirational as the guys”

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