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.