SPOTY: A golf-free festival of schmaltz

Sports Personality Of The Year 2015

Back in the days when the number of television channels available to you could be counted on one hand, the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year show was an unabashed annual treat.

Cocooned within a small, dimly lit studio and occupying a prime pre-Christmas spot on the TV schedule, it was essential viewing; understated, classy and unashamedly all about sport.

Now? Not so much. It has sacrificed nearly all of what made it so compelling and surrendered willingly to the erroneous equation that bigger = better.

There’s no subtlety or nuance. Instead, it’s all glitz and glam, a feast of schmaltz and saccharin shoved down your throat with significant lashings of self-indulgence and disingenuous backslapping.

You’re great. No, you’re great.

Last night’s lavishly over-produced instalment was beamed live into homes across the land from the Echo Arena in Liverpool where viewers could have been forgiven for thinking they were watching a haphazard dress rehearsal rather than the main event

To call it a comedy of errors would be injudicious. Comedy is, by nature, funny. This wasn’t.

“The greatest interview ever!” exclaimed a breathless Clare Balding after the worst interview ever, a toe-curling exchange with Sir Mo Farah, two of his kids and a faulty microphone.

Entirely less breathless, oddly enough, was sport's most famous asthmatic, Chris Froome. The reigning Tour de France champion and latest cyclist to fail a drug test visibly squirmed through his appearance, whilst Harry Kane – the top-scorer for an English Premier League team that has won precisely zero this year – was the token footballer on the shortlist.

Then there was Lewis Hamilton, born in Britain, taxed abroad and absolutely drowning in self-adoration. His interview, via video-link from Los Angeles, was a lesson in monotonous insincerity - the very antithesis of ‘personality’.

Predictably, the rugby union segment – primarily a montage of the British & Irish Lions drawn summer test series with New Zealand – was accompanied by an Eddie Butler-voiced dramatic reading. Because, hey, if it works for absolutely every Six Nations match…

The surreal scenes endured until the end. Michael Johnson, his feet submerged in a flurry of dry ice that billowed across the stage, introduced Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill’s Lifetime Achievement Award in a bizarre sequence that brought to mind Kate Bush, Scientology recruitment material and the X-Factor live shows. If that was the look the stage managers were going for, they executed it exquisitely. 

All  before this particular pantomime’s excruciating final act. “It’s time to hear from our winner, Sir Mo Farah”. Oh no it isn’t. Down went the video link, thus ending the show on a suitably chaotic, unsatisfactory note.

There were some nice touches. The presentation of the Helen Rollason Award to the parents of little Bradley Lowery was beautifully handled, whilst Denise Larrad, the winner of the ‘Unsung Hero’ prize, lent proceedings a much-needed injection of ‘normal person’.  

All the while, golf watched on from outside the ropes.

Tommy Fleetwood’s success in winning a first European Tour Order of Merit title for a year’s worth of sustained excellence was apparently not worthy of a place on the ten-person shortlist for the main award.

As best I could tell, Georgia Hall, the Ladies European Tour Order of Merit winner and a revelation in her maiden Solheim Cup, didn’t even get a mention. If she did, it was as a fleeting, forgettable aside.

Sergio Garcia, a winner of a first major championship at long last this year, was overlooked for the six-person shortlist for the Overseas Sports Personality award, so too Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka.

Not that we should be surprised. This is the same ceremony that named Colin Montgomerie and Paul McGinley ‘Coach of the Year’ in 2010 and 2014 respectively after their victorious Ryder Cup captaincies. What ‘their’ players’ actual coaches must have made of that.

It’s easy to bemoan golf’s exclusion from the event. It’s even easier to say that it is symptomatic of the way the BBC – on TV, at least – has treated the sport for entirely too long (which, incidentally, is to do a disservice to the many terrific journalists and excellent golf people who work there).

The simple truth, though, is that golf is better off not being a part of this unsophisticated, superfluous fluff. Better to not be represented than misrepresented – right?

Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I’m too cynical.

Or maybe some things were just better the way they were.

(Pic: mirror.co.uk)

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