Sport, as we’re often told in its aftermath, usually by the beneficiary of a poor decision by officaldom or some outrageous bad luck, is “all about opinions”. The sportsman saying this knows full well he’s dead jammy/in the wrong, but his media training has told him to smile sweetly and not concede any ground.
Well, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year – or “SPotY” if you held a SPotY party on Sunday night, as Clare Balding claimed many would be doing – is certainly about opinions. I have many opinions about it and within lots of them there are counter-opinions screaming to get out.
I hate it and I love it. Love that sport gets an annual review of the best moments because there is such a thing as the British Soap Awards and, for goodness sake, Parliamentarian of the Year – but hate that the show has become so bloated and self-important. I still, just about, believe in the BBC, but when its inclusiveness means finding a cameo for Hacker the Dog from the kids’ department, I’m afraid my reaction was similar to that of Gordon Strachan when a delicious piece of editing revealed the Scotland football supremo with arms severely crossed, offering up his best ‘what the...?’ face.
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I can’t stand that the Beeb now scours the land, dementedly and inclusively, for the biggest enormodomes when Studio 1 of the old Television Centre used to suffice. But I think we can all agree that Glasgow’s Hydro looked fantastic and made a fitting end to a year of terrific Scottish sporting stage-management.
I know that nothing stays the same and that progress is not all bad but I preferred the show when it was David Coleman, remembered in Sunday’s roll-call of the departed, as the lone presenter bestriding the year’s events like Alberto Juantorena (and yes I know it wasn’t Coleman who described the great Cuban runner as “opening his legs and showing his class”).
I loved that Coleman had a presenter’s ego but that I was too young to properly appreciate it. Now, I am probably too old for Gary Lineker’s frontman style because, while many seemed to think he deserved some sort of prize at the end for battling through with a sore throat, I couldn’t help wondering why he hadn’t stood down to spare us the hideous croaking – the worst of it coming straight after Nicola Benedetti’s heavenly violin – or did he think the event couldn’t possibly do without him?
Don’t speak to me about prizes – the show now hands out far too many of them. This procession looks like the pro-sports equivalent of schools and youth clubs ensuring everyone gets some sort of medal, even those who trip over right at the start of the three-legged race. And isn’t that policy often held up as part of the reason why our kids don’t always grow up to be elite athletes? I like that we decide who wins the main prize and, despite the outrage of a few years ago when the Beeb fixed the name of the Blue Peter cat, I trust the Corporation not to play fast and loose. But we used to be allowed to vote for who the hell we liked. Now we get a suggested list and, not for the first time this year, it was wrong. No Charlie Flynn was a joke.
I know sport is different now, that it is deadly serious and involves billions of pounds and its practitioners can’t have the time or inclination for a martini or a fag or a wider perspective on the world and must be tunnel-visioned. I know too that when “Personality” was inserted in the title way back it 1954 it wasn’t envisaged that the award should go to the man or woman who told the most jokes. But Flynn told the most jokes in 2014 – or rather, he spoke naturally and made us smile. In this anodyne age, blandness piled high on top of blandness, that deserved a bawbee of some sort.
Yes, I’m contradicting myself again. If there are too many prizes already, why should another one have been minted for special contribution to the gaiety of the nation?
Well, because two and a half hours is quite a long time to spend in the company of the wretchedly-rasping Lineker, Gareth Bale struggling to offer up any more than “Si” after 15 months of Spanish lessons and Lewis Hamilton shamelessly plugging his celebrity girlfriend’s West End show.
Ah, Lewis, the ultimate winner. Is Formula 1 sport or is it transport? Mind you, I loved Graham Hill, a regular cabaret turn in the old days of (if we must) SPotY. He had more personality in his moustache than many of today’s megastars will ever possess.
It’s all about opinions of course and I’m sticking to mine. At least until next year.
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