I don’t watch television very often, not through any deliberate decision not to, but just because I tend to be doing other things in the spaces when the TV might come into its own. But on Monday evening, I found myself in front of The One Show, which had Gary Lineker on as a guest. The main story was the unveiling of the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
They did some natty little game in which viewers were encouraged to guess who was who with a description of their achievements before their faces and names were revealed. There was a board with 10 silhouetted faces, and when the first five to be unveiled were all men, I just assumed that the second half of the nominees would turn out to be women. But no, as they went through the last remaining five, it became clear that there wasn’t a single woman on the shortlist.
But no, as they went through the last remaining five, it became clear that there wasn’t a single woman on the shortlist.
This was dealt with slightly awkwardly by Alex Jones, who presents the show. Her approach was to ask Lineker why there were no women on the list, but taking the sting out of the question by prefacing it with “I know it’s not your fault.” Maybe it was unfair for Lineker to be expected to illuminate, but he didn’t seem to mind, appearing to be relatively comfortable in delivering the explanation that although there are some strong sportswomen kicking around, none of them were as strong as the men who made the list.
Now, I’m not massively into sport, but my immediate response to this was that it sounded utterly ridiculous. The point of this award is to recognise the accomplishments of the sportsperson whose actions have most captured the public’s imagination, so it’s not supposed to be about ‘strength’ of sporting performance above all else.
Capturing the public imagination involves more than just being really good at your sport. Triumph over adversity, personal resilience, and doing well against the odds are the kinds of things that are important here. Obviously, this side of things is not gender-specific, but this year there have been some truly amazing women whose personal stories add real impressiveness to their sporting achievements.
Take Sarah Stevenson, the 28-year old taekwondo world champion who has recently lost both her parents to cancer. In this amazing interview she explains how she managed to fight at the world championships only two weeks after hearing her dad’s cancer was terminal. Her determination to win gold at the Olympics is fired by her parents’ dying wishes that she does so.
I’m unconvinced by Jake Humphrey’s assertion that this is not a sexist competition, and am actually pretty sure that it just reflects a wider hegemonic masculinity underpinning the sporting world.
In his great article which includes an alternative women-only list, Andy Bull makes a good case for how astonishing it is that not one of the sportswomen he mentions was deemed worthy of inclusion on the main shortlist. I don’t know about you, but I’m unconvinced by Jake Humphrey’s assertion that this is not a sexist competition, and am actually pretty sure that it just reflects a wider hegemonic masculinity underpinning the sporting world.