The Sports Personality of the Year is one of the biggest accolades that any sports star can receive in the UK. But it wouldn’t be unrealistic to say that the awards have been dominated by men. So, just how successful have women been in the awards?
To put things into perspective, the last time a female sports star won the Sports Personality Of The Year (SPOTY) was 2006. Yes, I know, fourteen years ago. There have been some exceptional winners in that time who did deserve the title – but fourteen years!
Zara (Phillips) Tindall received the award in 2006 after winning the vending world championships that year. Fair play to Zara, matching her mums’ achievement. Zara’s mother, Princess Anne took the award when she was 21 years old, way back in 1971.
Amazingly, after nearly seventy years that the BBC Sports Personality has been going, just thirteen women have taken the top prize. It seems that women have to perform an almost inhuman sporting accomplishment to be the winner.
History of Women in the SPOTY Awards
The Sports Personality of the Year, or SPOTY as it is affectionately known, is a British sporting institution. The first award was back in 1954 when runner Chris Chataway beat Roger Bannister into second place.
A woman, yes you read correctly, show-jumper Pat Smythe cantered in at third place. Mind you, that was about it for women in the fifties. Many people even consider Pat’s inclusion to be BBC tokenism for that very first award.
Things looked up a bit in the sixties, with twelve women placed within the top three including three winners. 1962 was a swinging year for women’s sporting achievement, with all three places going to the ladies. Swimmer Anita Lonsbrough was first; athlete Dorothy Hyman was second and another swimmer Linda Ludgrove was third.
The seventies saw a royal female win the top award in Olympic gold medallist, Princess Anne in 1971. She was followed by another woman, Mary Peters, in 1972. It looked like the women were on a roll, but over the next 28 years, only seven women made it into the top three.
SPOTY Since The 80s
There could be no arguing about the female success for the awards in the 80s. Yes, one of those may have been a male/female skating partnership, but wow, did they take the world by storm. Torvill and Dean totally dominated their sport in their prime, scoring near perfect in each outing. So, inevitably they were runners up in SPOTY in 1983. However, they took the top prize the following year.
Just two years later, the incredible, Fatima Whitbread did the same. Taking the runner up spot in 1986 and winning outright in 1987.
For the following decade, there was just one female winner of the sports personality of the Year. The Scottish athlete Liz McColgan took the top prize after winning the 10,000m Gold Medal at the World Championships. But, the rest of the nineties did not see any further women taking pole position.
That’s not to say that there was no female sporting talent around. The nineties saw heaps of women dominate their sports, but sadly just Sally Gunnell and Denise Lewis made it to the top three.
Things did change for the better, from the years 2000 to 2010. During this period there were twelve top three places. On top of this, Paula Radcliffe thoroughly deserved to take the title in 2002. Then Kelly Holmes in 2004. And Princess Anne’s daughter, Zara Phillips holds the last female winner’s title in 2006.
Is Sports Personality of the Year Unfair?
The winner of the BBC Sportsperson of the Year is judged by a public vote. Mind you, it doesn’t always work out that way. When the Angling Times campaigned for Bob Nudd in 1991, the fisherman went on to receive the most nominations. Unfortunately, the BBC denied him his win, claiming that nominations on forms printed in the Angling Times amounted to ‘fixing’ and that the campaign was unfair.
The unofficial speculation has always been that Nudd wasn’t quite “sexy” enough for the increasingly ‘Oscar-like’ ceremony. Since then the Beeb seems to have relented on the issue, and campaigning is on the increase – with the BBC declaring that they can’t stop lobbying any longer. So perhaps who gets ‘pushed’ hardest is a factor in who gets short-listed.
There are other theories to consider which include the comparatively small female sporting TV audience as well as high-profile players attracting votes regardless of achievement. Even the increase in the size of sportsmen’s pay packets can be seen as a factor.
Plus, even now, most women’s sporting events aren’t viewed as ‘mainstream’. Dr Joyce Kay, of Stirling University’s school of sport, says: “Women just aren’t on the minds… you’re fighting against the system all the time where it’s the big sports that get the recognition.”
What an uproar the no-woman SPOTY of 2011 caused. The BBC received so many complaints about the lack of female representation that it published this statement:
“We recognise that the all-male line-up has created much debate amongst viewers of the programme, sports-lovers in general and those that champion the cause of Women’s sport in this country.
“We have had many different points made in the reaction we receive which informs our editorial discussions and we do value it.”
That’s nice then, but it wasn’t enough for Harriet Harman, the Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary at the time. She demanded even before it was made public that the BBC should put some women on the list. Later an angry lynch-mob of female Labour and Lib-Dem MPs wrote to BBC boss Mark Thompson demanding an end to this “disgraceful bias against women”.
Across the sporting world, women have united in their anger and, in an attempt to give the girls a sporting chance, Denise Lewis even went as far to suggest for a separate BBC prize for women sports stars.
The former Olympic champion, who secured gold in the heptathlon at the Sydney Games in 2000, called for ‘female’ and ‘male’ categories in the Sports Personality of the Year Competition to ensure that women’s achievements are not overlooked, insisting that the current system is not fair.
Odds for SPOTY 2020
So, with clear dominance from the men over the last ten years, will the 2020 Sports Personality break the mould? Well, if the most recent odds are anything to go by, the answer is a firm NO.
The nearest contender is the 1500m British Record holder Laura Muir. But she is a huge outsider at 25/1 and the next person on the list is Dina Asher-Smith at 66/1.
|Paddy Power Odds applicable as of 30/07/2020|
|Tyson Fury||6/4||Marcus Rashford||17/10||Lewis Hamilton||4/1|
|Jordan Henderson||9/1||Ronnie O’Sullivan||20/1||Judd Trump||20/1|
|Laura Muir||25/1||Oisin Murphy||25/1||Rory Mcllroy||25/1|
|Anthony Joshua||25/1||Chris Froome||33/1||Stuart Broad||40/1|
|Ben Stokes||50/1||Owen Farrell||50/1||Andy Murray||50/1|
|Fallon Sherrock||66/1||Justin Rose||66/1||Dina Asher-Smith||66/1|