A sporting tragedy

In a year of British sporting failure, the main theme of Sports Personality of the Year 2006 was bereavement.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Culture

Having to cope with the absence of sporting achievement would have done for many award ceremonies with sport in the title but not the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year 2006. In fact, such a success was this year’s string-laden extravaganza, perhaps they’ll just jettison the sporting criteria next year. With the categories opened up to anyone possessed of personality, or better still, personal tragedy, we could see Gazza back, complete with the prosthetic breasts. After all, this year featured those two tits from Little Britain.

As a reminder that this year’s event is, for the time being, a celebration of sport, Sue Barker, peering out from beneath a blonde helmet, started things off by forcing a random selection of previous winners to stand awkwardly on stage. This was disconcerting. Had Greg Rusedski really won it before? Or the poster boy of British javelin, Fatima Whitbread? It appears they had. More shocking still was the revelation that Brendan Foster used to be an athlete.

The show then proceeded, in ostensibly traditional fashion, to chronicle the year from the perspective of different sports, introducing this year’s nominees along the way. This was pretty informative. For instance, as starved of glory as British athletics is at the moment, we had apparently won medals galore at the Commonwealth Games. This was, I suspect, the first time most of us realised there’d been a Commonwealth Games. Perhaps other eligible nations were similarly ignorant.

But if the Commonwealth Games’ continued existence was surprising, it was nothing compared to the list of candidates. Admittedly, Beth Tweddle’s gold-winning gymnastics routines are impressive, as is Nicole Cooke’s domination of the women’s equivalent of the Tour de France, but you did get the impression that the BBC sports department might as well have googled ‘British + sport + win’ to find them. Why was Phil ‘the Power’ Taylor included? I’ve nothing against darts but any sport that takes place in a pub should really be discounted. Where would you draw the line? Dominoes? ‘Drink-spiking’? Still, his victory would have been one in the eye for the anti-‘binge drinking’ brigade.

Then, of course, there was the eventual winner, Zara Phillips. Not only is she an equestrian world champion, she’s also the daughter of Princess Anne, who won the big award way back in 1971. In a particularly intimate piece of footage we saw them relaxing together in their stable. Clearly ‘hyper’ from eating too many of the sugar lumps intended for the horses, they reminisced about something or other whilst exchanging neighing looks. It was all very touching. I’m just not convinced Zara – 11th in line for the throne – won on the basis of her show jumping exploits.

What Zara did have, in common with the other candidates, was a background of personal tragedy. In her case, it was the death of a friend and fellow competitor in a riding accident a week before her world championship triumph. But this was a sports awards show scripted by the people who write those ‘triumphs over tragedy’ for women’s magazines. From the loss of Darren Clarke’s wife, the death of Tiger Woods’s dad, to a lengthy tribute to snooker player Paul Hunter who died of cancer aged 27, sporting achievements seemed to be secondary this year to bereavement. As Tiger Woods said ‘people can relate to loss’. Perhaps more than they can relate to golf, but surely an awards ceremony should honour public achievements, not private tragedy, no matter how sad. But then again, nobody said you had to be a sports fan to vote for your favourite sports star.

Perhaps at some subliminal level Zara Phillips tapped into this need for collective emoting. There was something eerily familiar about her demure awkwardness, her big doe-eyes. But it only dawned on me what it was after the celebratory braying had faded with the final credit roll. For there she was again, looming out of the screen: ‘Diana: the Conspiracy Files, on BBC 2 now’.

Read on:

How to become SPOTY, by Rob Lyons

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