BBC Sport's Personality: The worst award show of the year... again

As more than half a century of tradition demands, the great and the good of British sport once again joined together on a Sunday night in December to celebrate a year of triumph and glorious achievement mixed in with a hint of honourable failure.

Jeremy Clarkson, Robbie Williams, Chris Evans, Katherine Jenkins, Idris Elba and James Corden, sporting heroes and heroines all, contributed to that annual television ritual known as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Wait. Rewind that bit about sporting heroes. What on earth have that motley crew got to do with sport, never mind heroism? Driving cars around an old aerodrome, playing keepie-uppie with a football and taking part in the odd golf pro-am, as respectively Messrs Clarkson, Williams and Evans have done, simply do not count.

Uninspiring evening: Gary Lineker, Jessica Ennis, Tony McCoy, David Beckham, Phil Taylor and Sue Barker pose during Sunday's BBC Sport Personality of the Year Awards

Uninspiring evening: Gary Lineker, Jessica Ennis, Tony McCoy, David Beckham, Phil Taylor and Sue Barker pose during Sunday's BBC Sport Personality of the Year Awards

Williams acted as an advocate for Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor and ended up sounding like counsel for the prosecution. ‘He’s murdered people - not literally, he’s a lovely man,’ the singer said of the darts legend.

Evans spoke for Worksop and world No 1 Lee Westwood while, somewhat bizarrely, Clarkson urged support for Amy Williams and her skeleton bob named Arthur. Clarkson does e-types not tea trays.

The boy ‘Tennis’ Elba - an actor of some repute, an Arsenal fan and, therefore, apparently well qualified to pass judgment on the World Cup - at least had the merit of sounding like something to do with sport, if only as a source of pain.

Talking of which, as laudable as Corden’s involvement in Sport Relief is, it would be a greater relief if the irritant was to disappear from sport-related programmes or, better still, from our screens.

Evans above: The BBC rolled out the usual cast of celebrities to talk up the values of those on the shortlist for the top prize

Evans above: The BBC rolled out the usual cast of celebrities to talk up the values of those on the shortlist for the top prize

Clarkson and Co have nothing to do with sport, of course, and everything to do with the culture of celebrity which has been infecting BBC Sport for years and has ruined an institution once cherished and now critically mocked.

Never mind that the event has been taken around the country and attracts huge free-ticket audiences; never mind that with a peak viewing figure of 12.6million this year SPOTY, as the adult-turned-adolescent programme is known, defeated the final of The Apprentice in the ratings. That will be all the justification the Beeb requires. A good audience, however, does not necessarily signify a good product.

How I pine for the days when this end-of-the-year programme had that end-of-the-pier feel to it. How I long for a show which looked back on a year of sport by showing the best action from the year.

Roger Bannister's mile; that Geoff Hurst hat-trick, the Borg versus McEnroe epic at Wimbledon; the thriller in Manila, no names required; Tony Jacklin winning the Open golf championship; Steve Redgrave’s Olympic gold medals. And so on, and so on. Momentous occasions of that ilk were reprised in context, retold with a proper narrative and illuminated by interview.

Highlights: Gone are the days when real sporting excellence, like Geoff Hurst's hat-trick, could be beamed on the BBC

Highlights: Gone are the days when real sporting excellence, like Geoff Hurst's hat-trick, could be beamed on the BBC

It was known then as the Sports Review of the Year, a title that ran reassuringly from 1955 to 1999.

Even the over-the-top live stunts now offer a nostalgic glow to a generation who grew up with David Coleman: freezing the studio floor so that Torvill and Dean could perform; a penalty shootout, if memory serves correctly; bringing Red Rum into the auditorium and allowing him to do his business (or am I getting confused with the baby elephant on Blue Peter?) One award, loads of highlights.

Nowadays, we have to sit through eight awards, Oscar-like envelopes, precious little in the way of action and a smugness ill befitting a public broadcasting corporation which has allowed so many crown jewels to be stolen.

Special footage: Nowadays viewers are given only short snippets of old hat highlights seen many times before

Special footage: Nowadays viewers are given only short snippets of old hat highlights seen many times before

Highlights are now brief, squeezed into a frenetic collection of arty images, sometimes soft focus, sometimes out of focus, against a background of ‘appropriate’ music. Everything laid at the altar of those twin towers of Babel, ratings and celebrity.

The loss of sports rights in the 1990s precipitated the change. BBC Sport found themselves chronically short in highlights. Some big events remain. Others have returned. But there will probably be no turning back of this particular clock.

The career of the executive producer who demanded that a golf highlights programme should contain as few golf highlights as possible continues to flourish. As to the latest edition, mainstream sport followers and scoffers of minority sports may well wonder what kind of sporting year throws up a result in which a jockey comes first and a darts player second.

Winners: But where there othe rmotives behind the gongs given to Tony McCoy (centre) and Phil Talyor (right)

Winners: But where there othe rmotives behind the gongs given to Tony McCoy (centre) and Phil Talyor (right)

And what manner of toadying conjures up Colin Montgomerie as coach of the year? You could certainly argue that, as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, he was involved in selection and tactical issues. But this is no traditional coach. This is a golfer who has never been remotely concerned with method or technique and who has never been one for the practice range.

Tony McCoy was deserving enough with his Grand National victory lending a certain topicality to the award. Yet, there was a sense of a lifetime achievement element with both him and runner-up Phil Taylor. Ryan Giggs fell into that category last year.

If this carries on, the Sports Personality winner is going to be older than the lifetime achievement recipient. Hold that result. McCoy is a year and two days older than David Beckham, who received a rapturous reception from the public. There was not a dry eye in the house. Plenty of dry ice, though.

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