Aidan Smith: SPOTY needs a personality bypass to pick right winner

Andy Murray: Up for SPOTY. Picture: Getty
Andy Murray: Up for SPOTY. Picture: Getty
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Tonight, as we near the end of 2012, a year during which they’ve got so much horribly, faith-shakingly, disastrously wrong, the BBC has one last chance to get something right. Rig the vote so that Andy Murray wins the Sports Personality of the Year award.

Well, why not? The Corporation, as we’ve seen, is not above being incredibly sneaky and has previous when it comes to vote-rigging. Remember Socks, the Blue Peter cat? Lots of small, trusting children nominated Cookie as the name they wanted, only for the Beeb to flagrantly change it.

Murray could be the new Socks, picking up the prize by stealth. It’s the only way he’s going to win. A sizeable chunk of the voting public, never much caring for his hairstyle, on-court demeanour, off-court demeanor and inability to be confused with Tim Henman, has got the perfect excuse. Murray doesn’t have a personality, as the contest demands.

Which is ridiculous, but typical of how ridiculous SPOTY has become. The actual award is a minature broadcast camera, unfortunate given how little sport the BBC screens now. The actual event has expanded – hugely – as actual sports coverage has shrunk, bringing an air of desperation to the proceedings.

Instead of a theatre in Broadcasting House, the Beeb tours the land looking for the biggest enormodomes (tonight it’s back in London at the ExCel, in front of 15,000). There are lots of presenters now – as opposed to one David Coleman, or David “One-nil!” Coleman, as some of us know him – and lots of prizes (the pro-sport equivalent of schools awarding medals to those finishing last, part of the reason this country is often quite rubbish at sport). Doubtless there will be rock-gig razzmatazz where once there was Graham Hill, just being suave and debonair, which was enough. SPOTY is a quaint, old-fashioned affair frantically trying to squeeze into the latest go-faster Lycra – don’t get me started on Gary Lineker.

How the BBC must wish it had never inserted the p-word in the title. Doubtless this was done for a good reason, with a certain innocence, back in the day.

Now the Corporation, which goes to great lengths to ensure every drama cast and presenter line-up is reflective of “modern Britain” (too great sometimes) has to explain what it means by the “personality” element. As if choosing between top sportsmen and women is no different to picking a karaoke squawker. As if it’s OK to have the contenders jump though an extra hoop at the conclusion of their endeavours, demonstrating, well... what, exactly? How do you judge personality? As if being a bit dour because you were so single-minded in pursuit of your fantastic achievement isn’t allowed.

Because 2012’s achievements have been so fantastic, the business of choosing a winner is thrown into sharper focus and found to be even sillier. Suddenly Murray, the US Open champ and with a gold medal from London to boot, must wait to see if his year panned out all right. Now Bradley Wiggins is wondering: “The yellow jersey from the Tour de France and my own gold from London – don’t I still need the ultimate validation?” Yes, the BBC could take the line tonight that its prize is but a mere bauble but, with Lineker’s smirk now such a feature of SPOTY, I’d be seriously surprised if it doesn’t milk the contest. It can’t afford not to.

There was a suggestion this year’s winner could be an anonymous Unknown Sportsman, representing everyone on the shortlist and every winner who didn’t secure a place. Initially I approved, but then realised this was “medals for all” again.

So, if there has to be a victor... 
Mo Farrah thrilled on the track like no one since Seb Coe and Steve Ovett beat each other up for fun, then did it again. Jessica Ennis is obviously the world’s greatest female athlete. Chris Hoy – the last push on the final bend was the most exciting two-point-whatever seconds of sport, ever. Ben Ainslie – brilliant, like all the rest. Wiggo – so close.

But it has to be Murray.

To nick a line from the great Aussie wit Clive James, Murray against Novak Djokovic at Flushing Meadows was the most exciting game of tennis since Dan Maskell’s famous match with Henry VIII.

And to win it our man had to show – yes – personality.