It was no great surprise to me that Ronnie O’Sullivan was not named on the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

This is no fault of O’Sullivan but a reflection of the way snooker is still viewed by many sections of the media.

SPOTY used to be the concluding moment of the BBC Sports Review of the Year, which did what it said on the tin: reviewed the sporting year, in the company of those British sportsmen and women who had made it so memorable.

When the name of the programme changed, so did its focus. It is now an awards show in which personalities dominate over sport.

For over 40 years the voting system for SPOTY was very simple: you voted for whoever you liked. Whoever got the most votes won.

In more recent years it was changed to a pre-chosen shortlist of ten, from which the public could choose.

For there to be a shortlist, there has to be people choosing the shortlist, and this is where things went bad for snooker.

Because years ago, when it was a free vote, snooker fared really well. Steve Davis appeared in the top three more than anyone else. In 1988, after becoming he first player to complete the triple crown of world, UK and Masters titles he won the main award, although he was playing in a tournament in Belgium so could not accept his prize in the studio.

Stephen Hendry would also appear in the top three but no snooker player since has got close.

O’Sullivan, in the year he returned from a long sabbatical to win a fifth world title, deserved proper consideration. He didn’t get it. His name was put forward to the selection panel but they quickly dismissed it.

Hendry, a member of the BBC snooker team but very much his own man, told the Daily Star: “There’s a snobbery towards snooker that has always been there. Ronnie’s a personality. When you take the whole title ‘Sports Personality’, you couldn’t really get much more of a personality than Ronnie. And in terms of sporting achievement I would like to see someone else take a year off and then come back and win the major title in their chosen sport.”

One of the problems is that, since National Lottery funding transformed British sport, we are actually very good at a number of sports. So it’s a lot harder than it once was to get on the list.

But a glance at the people who chose this shortlist was a clue as to the sort of sports they would consider. There was an overwhelming middle class bias and also representatives of sports whose competitors then found themselves among the final ten.

O’Sullivan is one of the biggest personalities in any sport. He’s divisive, certainly, but his personality combined with his achievement in becoming world champion again deserved some recognition.

Unlike most of the other contenders, he actually won his major title on the BBC.

Of course some will say, who cares? It’s only a TV show. Yes, and it was a chance for snooker to gain some coverage outside its own bubble on a programme watched by general sports fans and some people who don’t much follow sport.

If snooker can’t get a player on the final list in a year like this then it surely never will.


Andrew G Owen said...

I haven't been able to take the show seriously since Paul Gascoigne won it for his waterworks.

ANON said...

No point being on the shortlist unless you are likely to win, and everyone already knows who is going to win (and its not Ian Bell).

The only Snooker Player who could win is Ronnie, and he could only get it by winning the worlds in an otherwise barren year (look at the 1-2-3 for 1997, 2006 and 2010 these were years where, bluntly, there was no-one who really deserved to win!).

Snooker would do well to look at the job Horseracing did to help McCoy win (they had a PR agency and a huge campaign to put him in papers, magazines and on TV at every available opportunity in order to build up his case to win). And it is a fair point of comparison (McCoy was the first jockey to win SPOTY). But does Ronnie really have any interest in winning it?

Wolfgang said...

O'Sullivan will get over it, Barry will shrug it off, and lots of great snooker will be played for its true fans. In short it doesn't really matter, at least not for snooker. It does highlight just how riven by class division Britain still is though, when the chosen sport of a large portion of the population is so readily dismissed. Britain's problem is that it's never lost a war, so you have been stuck with the same ruling order for centuries.

Ray147 said...

I stopped watching SPOTY in 1997 when Greg Rusedski won.
Surely someone was having a laugh that day? Nothing against Rusedski but I thought he had had a personality bypass so was staggered that he won this award. You never used to be told how many voted or the breakdown of votes - I don't know if that's changed now or not.

jamie brannon said...

A number of people from working-class backgrounds and sports associated with working-class people have won the award suggesting there's more to it than class snobbery.

I think the McCoy marketing campaign is a valid one, as nothing similar done for O'Sullivan.

In addition, there's a snobbery towards snooker stemming from the lack of physicality. After all, the more glaring omission from this year's list is Phil Taylor, who has had a dominant year as any on the shortlist or not.

Unknown said...

Snooker is more classy than Darts, but that didn't stop Phil Taylor finishing runner-up in 2010.

Personally, I think it's more to do with Ronnie O'Sullivan himself unfortunately for being over-looked. It's a disgrace for a 5 time World Champion and arguably the most skilful player the game's yet to see, not to even been awarded an MBE!

There is still a snobbery towards snooker, and although Mr Hearn has done wonders for the game, I think he is out of touch with the correct image of the game that it needs. You only have to watch the upcoming Shoot-out to see how tacky Snooker is portrayed, similar to how he runs the Darts, and perhaps it's snooker's fault that it has this image for now.

I think it's long over-due to bring in the best PR people worldsnooker can afford and try and sort this out. Personally, I think it's time to completely ditch the waistcoat and dikie bow look, old fashioned and dated, and let players appear smart casual (obviously not jeans) but t.shirts, polo necks, etc, with then showing off sponsers, similar to Golf. I'm surprised the top players don't have top watch deals with the amount of exposure these would be shown in snooker.

Wolfgang said...

Phil Taylor polled well once he made the shortlist. I think Ronnie would have finished top 3 this year too if he had been put to the public vote. It's no coincidence that the two highest profile sports that receive the most snubs are "pub games". Personally I think they should nominate someone from every televised sport and then it's in the public's hands.

JIMO96 said...

I agree that the snobbery shown towards snooker still exists, but emphatically do not agree that O'Sullivan should be nominated for SPOTY.

He shows the sport too much disrespect. If he balanced this disrespect out by playing more events, and demonstrating what a consistent winner he can be, and maybe by showing some maturity here and there, THEN he might be deserving of a nomination.

Then again, he'd probably turn up and do or say something cringeworthy or controversial that'll set the sport back decades.

Unknown said...

To many still look down at Snooker, and I hear it to many times described as a "niche" sport, although if you look at the viewing figures, Snooker should have a much much better image.
Barry's brought in lots of new events, and we now have a near 11 month calendar, which is how it should be, but it appears Barry is happy to continue to portray snooker as a pub like sport which is not good enough. Someone needs to stand up to him and get this changed.
Youngsters watching players in bow ties and waistcoats is outdated, and will have less appeal, and I think we need to get players to wear what they like (something along the lines of Golf wouldn't be far wrong)roll necks, jumpers, shirts etc showing of brand advertising.
Also, we need to try and have meetings with the top newspaper editors and try and push to get snooker displayed more favourably and more often.
I continue to hear that snooker is seen in a bad light in many forms, but I don't see or hear enough of the right things being done about it.