I'm not surprised Chris Froome isn't up for Sports Personality of the Year – the award has never really been about sport

It’s not about excellent or surprising feats of sportsmanship – it’s about occasions when the Great British public can whip out the bunting or attach union flags to their wing mirrors

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The Independent Online

You had to admire British Cycling’s stoicism on Tuesday as they digested the news that Chris Froome, who sweated blood to win the Tour de France before adding an Olympic medal and a second place in La Vuelta to it, still didn’t win a place in the expanded 16-strong shortlist for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year.

“It shows we’re mainstream,” said one of their leading coaches. “Froomy can win the Tour these days and no one even notices.” He hid his gritted teeth well.

The exclusion of an athlete who would be in this correspondent’s top three was a severe oversight, provoking the annual accusations of the BBC fixing its own programme (at least five of the 12 judges are employed by the corporation.) But while we can also validly question the exclusion of boxer Carl Frampton from a list which somehow includes Jamie Vardy – who wasn’t even Leicester City’s best player – and Gareth Bale – whose gallant Wales side were not even winners – don’t let’s pretend this show has ever been an honest reflection of the best and most loved in British sport.

It is actually a reflection of who does well in the great set-piece sporting events – those occasions when the Great British public can whip out the bunting or attach union flags to their wing mirrors. Olympians are always a shoo-in. You have to go back to 1996 to find a non-Olympian winner in an Olympics year. Athletics has delivered vastly more winners – 17 – than any other sport. Football, by comparison, has delivered a meagre five – and one of those, Ryan Giggs, seemed more befitting of a lifetime achievement prize in 2009.

Giggs aside, footballers have only ever won for their role in one of the international tournaments which make football a national event. There was Bobby Moore in 1966 – a year in which Barry Briggs, the New Zealand speedway rider, accomplished the remarkable feat of edging out Geoff Hurst to take second. Not a single footballer won the prize again until Paul Gascoigne, for his performance at the 1990 World Cup, which arguably changed the face of English football.

Michael Owen won in 1998, the World Cup year, and David Beckham in 2001 for the free kick against Greece at Old Trafford which gave England a shot at putting out bunting and decorating their wing mirrors.

Cricket follows precisely the same pattern. Cricketers have only ever won in the year of an Ashes summer – when everyone is suddenly a cricket fan. There was David Steele in 1975, dubbed the “bank clerk who went to war” that summer. Jim Laker (Old Trafford, 1956 and all that), Ian Botham (1981, Headingley and all that) and Andrew Flintoff (2005) are the other cricketers. Their sport trails boxing in the SPOTY medals table. Rugby limps in behind eventing in that same league. It took nothing less than Jonny Wilkinson’s favourite drop goal, in 2003, to bring this prize to the sport which is the third most followed within these shores – and certainly more popular than eventing.

It is certainly a skewed list which has honoured Joe Calzhage with the top prize but never Bobby Charlton; Zara Phillips and never Michael Atherton or Gary Lineker. The nation’s feelings for football have simply never been reflected by it. It was Steven Gerrard’s misfortune that his 2005 miracles in Istanbul coincided with Andrew Flintoff almost single-handedly winning the Ashes. Gerrard didn’t even finish second. He was edged out into third place by Ellen MacArthur, who had sailed single-handedly around the world – a year earlier in 2004.

Chris Froome crashes on Ventoux and runs

And, though we have come to know him as the wedding party footballer, dare we suggest that Wayne Rooney’s so many moments of thrilling brilliance might have registered somewhere on this scale since he won the Young SPOTY award 14 years ago? Incidentally, Manchester United’s treble didn’t deliver them a winner in 1999: Lennox Lewis took it that year.

The complicated nature of winning it just goes to show why Andy Murray – soon to be a three-times winner in the space of four years – can lay such claim to being the greatest of all Britons in the field of sport. Celebrate his accomplishment, yes – but don’t be deluded into thinking that he is lifting the prize bestowed these past 62 years on Britain’s best or most cherished star.