Overlooked in previous editions of the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award, Chris Froome may be wondering exactly what he has to do to be recognised for his achievements in the annual ceremony.
The Tour de France is widely regarded as one of the world’s toughest, most gruelling sporting events. Winning it once is a major achievement, so when Froome crossed the line in Paris in July wearing the yellow jersey for a third Tour victory, it was something special.
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Not only did it beyond doubt establish Froome as the most successful British Grand Tour cyclist ever, but it also elevated him among the all-time greats of international cycling.
It wasn’t all about the Tour either. Froome claimed a bronze medal in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games time trial, and won the coveted Critérium du Dauphiné. He also won two stages of the Vuelta a España on his way to finishing second overall.
Without discounting the achievements of the four cyclists who have made it onto SPOTY’s shortlist – Jason Kenny, Laura Kenny, Dame Sarah Storey and Kadeena Cox – Froome has matched their achievements, and some may argue he has surpassed them. And that’s without taking into account his run up Mont Ventoux.
So, why no Froome?
The shortlist is selected by a panel of 12 members from sport and the media, who look over the achievements of a large number of sportspeople before drawing up their list of 16 finalists based on the following criteria:
According to the rules, the nominees must: Reflect UK’s sporting achievements on the national and/or international stage; Represent the breadth and depth of UK sports; and take into account ‘impact’ of the person’s sporting achievement beyond the sport in question.
Perhaps it is Froome’s upbringing that has counted against him. As is widely known, Froome was born in Kenya, lived in South Africa as a teenager and now lives in Monaco. However, he has held a British passport since birth, his grandparents are British, and he registered as a British national and started racing under a British licence in 2008. He also belongs to British-based Team Sky. He identifies himself as British.
Has post-Brexit Britain become so inward-looking that we discount Froome as British? It seems unlikely, and more importantly, unjustifiable under scrutiny.
Or perhaps the world in general is cautious of professional road cycling. In the era after Lance Armstrong’s admission that he doped during his career, the already shaky reputation of the sport has taken a massive hit.
Fuelling that fire during 2016 has been the illegal hacking and publication of therapeutic use exemption (TUE) certificates by the Fancy Bears group, including those belonging to Froome and former Team Sky team-mate Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Wiggins found himself at the centre of controversy after the publications of his TUEs, which showed that he received injections of corticosteroids, including prior to his 2012 Tour de France win. Wiggins won Sports Personality that year, but is another high-achieving rider who is absent from the shortlist this year.
TUEs are not an indication of wrong-doing, and both Froome and Wiggins were within the rules. But bad press creates bad feeling – and that’s not good for a public award.
Also possible is that the 12-member panel simply did not want to put another cyclist on the shortlist, and found it hard to justify the absence of Kenny, Kenny, Storey and Cox, who all set records in Rio. But so did Wiggins, who became Britain’s most decorated Olympian in history, a stat that’s hard to beat. As the panel’s decision-making process is never published, we will never know.
The award will be handed to the winner after a live public vote during the broadcast of the ceremony on Sunday, December 18. It remains to be seen whether the nation will back one of the cyclists to beat bookies’ favourite Andy Murray.