Why should we have to watch our Olympic heroes squirming in penguin suits?

Who actually cares about the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist? Sport hardly needs another layer of competition

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To tremendous excitement, the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist was published on Monday, consisting – in a deviation from the usual assortment of golfers and motor racers – of an almost exclusively Olympic list, some of them, this time, real live women.

 Certainly they're a more compelling selection than usual, and certainly it's harder to pick out the finest athletic achievement of the year than it has been for ages. So, well done to our Olympians.

But, also, who actually cares? This is what I can't fathom about Spoty, as it's so annoyingly nicknamed. It was a routine Twitter refrain during the summer, most strikingly when Bradley Wiggins, having just secured the Tour de France, overtook Sir Steve Redgrave to become our most decorated Olympian: Ooh, the armchair fans remarked, he's got to be odds-on for Spoty now! Odds on for Spoty! One might as well have remarked, after Isambard Kingdom Brunel completed the Great Western Railway, that he had just given himself a great chance of becoming Engineer of the Year, or excitedly proclaimed Neil Armstrong's Best Astronaut credentials after he landed on the Moon.

Wiggins seems like a sufficiently switched-on Mod to see this: his achievement needs no additional marker. That he'll have to go through with it anyway is excruciating. I say this as the sort of sporting enthusiast who has already bought, and watched, the Olympic highlights DVD, rewinding Mo Farah's triumphant dash down the closing straight at least three times; but that's where I like to see my athletes greet their triumphs, not bursting out of penguin suits at the ExCeL arena, sandwiched between Beefy Botham and Fatima Whitbread in row 17.

This sort of thing is at least appropriate with the Oscars, dull though they are, because that kind of self-conscious performance is Hollywood's stock in trade, and also, they dress well. But sport is about freedom, about expressing yourself under pressure in front of millions in the same way you once did in your back garden – and it really doesn't need yet another layer of competition. I like watching my Olympic DVD precisely because I don't have to choose between Jessica Ennis and Andy Murray when I'm watching it.

Murray, indeed, has the right idea; he's probably not going to make it to the awards, because he's a bit busy training in Miami. Good for you, Andy, and well done for registering that you haven't got a hope anyway. When Lord Bradley of Wiggins has had his ceremonial air kiss with Sue Barker, and looked a bit awkward holding a miniature silver camera, here's hoping we can all take a leaf out of Murray's book, and find something better to do instead.

 

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