Michael Pavitt

Fresh from being pilloried by every political party in the country and their supporters for accusations of bias, the BBC succeeded in annoying more people with their annual Sports Personality of the Year award.

One of the complaints I saw regarding this year’s event critiqued that the show was trying to become a big arena event, a televised show and wrap up the entire sporting year, with a focus on ensuring nobody was left out.

People want to tune in to watch a couple of hours of sporting highlights, hear from some star athletes and then call the rest of the population idiots for voting for the wrong person to be the winner.

Nobody really wants to hear a list of every athlete who has achieved a podium finish throughout the year, across mainstream to more obscure sports.

In fairness to the BBC, it is a hard balance to strike.

Nobody wants to be the one fielding complaints should they be seen to have glossed over an athlete’s achievement or forget to acknowledge the death of a former star.

Cyclist Mark Cavendish, winner of the main award in 2011, had three years earlier described the four seconds of recognition he received for winning four stages at the Tour de France as "four daggers through my heart".

Cycling fans would have also been critical, yet the sport’s main time in the sun during the year had been at the Olympic Games and road success was not as lauded in the country at the time.

Ben Stokes won the main award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards ©Getty Images
Ben Stokes won the main award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards ©Getty Images

England cricket star Ben Stokes claimed this year’s the award following his man-of-the-match performance in the World Cup final and Ashes displays.

Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and sprinter Dina Asher-Smith rounded off the top three, while Manchester City footballer Raheem Sterling, world heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Welsh rugby union legend Alun Wyn Jones were also nominees.

The BBC has faced criticism from the swimming fraternity for overlooking the success of world record holder Adam Peaty, who claimed three gold medals at the World Swimming Championships in Gwangju.

Another name mentioned yesterday by my colleague Nancy was Para-swimming star Alice Tai.

"Switched #SPOTY off," Craig Spence, the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) chief marketing and communications officer, tweeted during last weekend’s awards ceremony.

"When an athlete like Alice Tai wins seven world titles and sets multiple world records and still doesn’t make the shortlist you have to question what more a Para athlete needed to have done this year."

It is a fair question to ask.

It is the second consecutive year that a Paralympic athlete had not been nominated for the award, while several complained on social media over the limited coverage of Para sport in general.

However, it is worth saying the two previous years, Paralympic athletes have not just been nominated but performed impressively in the public vote.

Sprinter Jonnie Peacock finished third in the public vote in 2017 ahead of swimmer Adam Peaty and boxer Anthony Joshua, while equestrian’s Sophie Christiansen finished fifth out of a shortlist of 16 in 2016.

Perhaps the omission this year is simply down to a much shorter shortlist being unveiled, which has led to more notable absences among less mainstream sports, whether that is swimming or Paralympic events.

Panam Sports awarded seperate prizes to the best athletes from the Parapan American Games ©Panam Sports
Panam Sports awarded seperate prizes to the best athletes from the Parapan American Games ©Panam Sports

The BBC would undoubtedly be criticised for a "token gesture" should they take the decision to ensure a Paralympic athlete features on a yearly basis.

Surely the most logical idea would be to introduce a separate Paralympic award, which would be presented on an annual basis.

Having attended the inaugural Panam Sports Awards last week, separate awards were presented for the Best Female and Male Athletes of the Parapan American Games in Lima.

The awards were presented to swimmer Sara Vargas and El Salvador powerlifter Herbert Aceituno respectively, with the prizes presented following a montage of some of the best moments from the Games.

I think both athletes would acknowledge they would have been unlikely to have been among the nominees for the main prize, given they would have been against most well-known athletes like Jamaican sprint star Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

I do not see why the BBC could not follow a similar format. While it would acknowledge the winner of a Paralympic Athlete of the Year, further athletes would benefit from deserved recognition by being nominated.

If the BBC wanted, the award could either be determined by the public or experts from national governing bodies. This would mirror the format adopted by the IPC for their monthly award.

With the public focus on para-sport set to increase again next year with the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, it would be a good idea to round the off the year by introducing a new prize to give greater recognition to athletes.