Time for the Beeb to push the vote out

In the beginning, when the British Broadcasting Corporation first trained their lenses on the wonders of our sporting world, theirs was the exclusive glory and the seriousness with which they performed their role as sole curators of the holy highlights was demonstrated most proudly in the annual Sports Review of the Year programme.

After 40-odd years, memories of those black and white days are a touch blurred but there seemed times when that pride strayed towards pomposity. It might have had something to do with the manner of the BBC's sports supremo of those days, Peter Dimmock, whose precise moustache and even more tightly clipped accent helped the channel to invest the occasion with a distinctly proprietorial air.

They stopped just short of creating the impression that the BBC had invented sport but left us in no doubt that our new familiarity with various parts of it were by courtesy of the Corporation. To a certain extent it was a forgivable attitude and there is no doubt that their commanding coverage of the big events and the quality of programmes like Match of the Day pleasurably illuminated our lives for years.

Since Dimmock's day, many good men have carried the torch with rising levels of professionalism and humility despite the gradual corrosion of the BBC's supremacy by rival channels and new technology. Yet, the annual muscle-flexing that will once more burst upon our screens for two prime hours this evening still carries a suspicion of the old arrogance which is manifested mainly in a refusal to change the format.

The programme invariably attracts high viewing figures, which understandably encourages them to keep to the same formula, but the traditional method of selecting the Sport Personality of the Year by viewers' votes has attracted more criticism this time than I can remember. This is because of the healthy number of genuine candidates the year has produced and a nagging conviction that random voting can't do justice to them. England neglected to win Euro 96 and Britain didn't do very well at the Olympics but with Steve Redgrave, Damon Hill, Frankie Dettori, Alan Shearer, Laura Davies, Tim Henman and Stephen Hendry among the chief contenders you have a hot contest that may deserve more profound judgement than the whim of the unknown viewer.

My sheltered life has so far kept me from meeting anyone who has ever voted for the BBC Sports Personality. They exist, of course they do, but we are never told in what numbers. Neither is it easy to build a profile of a typical voter. Is he an ardent sports fan with a pint in hand and a fag drooping from the corner of his mouth? Or is she a middle-aged matron liable to be attracted by the more socially acceptably sports or even a dimple and a heart-stopping smile?

No award ever commands unanimous approval but we are more likely to accept the judgement of an identifiable group of people than a haphazard mass. Certainly, there is no comfort to be drawn from past results; the list of sports stars who haven't won it is far more impressive than those who have.

It doesn't help that the system is so vulnerable to abuse. We've had the parallel example of Tony Blair's disqualification by the BBC's Today poll because of an organised voting surge by Labour supporters. In the early stages of the Sports Personality voting, a large number of votes arrived in favour of the gay former footballer Justin Fashanu. This was an obvious ginger group, if you pardon the expression, and quite properly acted upon by the BBC. But others have existed in the past and most probably were active before votes closed on Friday morning.

Without thorough deliberation, how can you decide between the exceptional brilliance of Dettori on one September afternoon at Ascot and the months of pressure and hours of blinding concentration that took Hill to the world championship? Without deep analysis of the effort involved, how can Redgrave's fourth Olympic gold medal be compared with Laura Davies's continuing excellence on every type of course and climate the world of golf can provide? Also to be considered is the timing of the period over which voting takes place. Most of them would have been registered before Tim Henman reached the semi-final of the Grand Slam Cup in Munich last weekend. What if he'd won it?

I'm not privy to what shape tonight's programme will take. If it is like past shows, the highlights of the year will be slapped on the screen, personalities in the audience will be asked mainly meaningless questions and the announcement of the awards will be coaxed towards a crescendo.

How much better it would be if a panel of experts were to consider the year and the achievements therein and use video footage to investigate and analyse before judging which was the supreme performance. It might not produce such a frothy and generally acceptable programme but it would intrigue the real sports fan and give the BBC an opportunity to show they have the ability to react creatively to difficult times.

An hour and 40 minutes later, in Heart of the Matter on the same channel, Joan Bakewell chairs a debate on sport and morality and asks if violence is the inevitable consequence of competitive sport. I'm not sure about violence - but bullshit undoubtedly is.

THE USUAL bewilderment was expressed last week about what possessed 74,000 to make the tiresome trek to Twickenham on a wintry Tuesday to watch a game contrived 115 years ago for fresh-faced and tactically unfettered students and now being played by dour and disciplined squads largely comprising educationally late developers drawn from around the world.

It is no mystery. The Varsity match itself, a curiously enticing ritual, is merely the centrepiece of the biggest outdoor piss-up in British sport surpassing even such fluid occasions as the various Five Nations games, the Derby, Grand National and Henley. There was a day when football matches would have earned a place in the list but a severe clampdown has slapped a sobriety on the game. If the same soused crowds who flocked to Twickenham with clanking car-boots and well-flasked hips decided to visit Old Trafford, Elland Road or Ibrox they wouldn't be allowed within a mile of the ground.

The Varsity match reaps the benefit of good behaviour. Having only recently ceased attending it after 20 years of car-park roistering, I can vouch that despite its high alcoholic content the event is good-humoured and trouble-free. It also has the priceless advantage of taking place in the firm's time.

In wishing it continued success, I have to bristle a little at the suggestion that the event appeals because it is the last bastion of amateurism. It bulges with commercial interests. Jonathan Davies recalls that, although never a Varsity player, he was invited along to say a few words to guests in one of the marquees in 1988. Then a union player, he was quietly handed an envelope containing pounds 400 in notes.

He was invited back to perform the same task the following year by which time he had moved over to league. This time he was given a cheque for pounds 250. Puzzled, he politely enquired why he'd been given less than before. "Ah, but you were an amateur then," they explained.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game