Time For Britain’s Sporting ‘Oscars’

BBC time: Can JR make a play?

When I was growing up as a kid, Saturday afternoons in the UK were dominated by BBC Grandstand. For those that don’t remember it, it was a live sports show that started around midday with Football Focus, a preview of all the football taking place later in the day. The rest of the broadcast was centered around live horse racing and was interspersed with other live events and highlights packages; the diversity ranging from darts to wrestling to ice skating, car racing and whatever was on at the time.

It is a little known fact that the motorsport discipline of Rallycross was invented by the BBC to show on Grandstand when they didn’t have horse racing to show.

The rival network ITV had their own similar ‘World of Sport’ programme but it was the BBC that utterly dominated television sports broadcasting in Britain until the advent of Sky in the 1990’s.

One of the highlights at the end of the year was the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, now known just as SPOTY since the full title is too long for Twitter and millennial’s thumbs can’t cope.

It’s a show where in the past a panel of journalists and commentators voted for the biggest ‘personality’ across all sports. It further strengthened the BBC position in sports coverage as it was quite a coveted title to be awarded. The show was beamed live on a random Sunday evening in December from the BBC’s HQ in London.

In recent years, like most things, it is decided by a public vote, most of which takes place as a phone-in on the night, and the event now travels the country and takes a format like a stadium rock concert.

In 2014 it came to Glasgow. My son was invited as a guest in recognition of his achievements with the Special Olympics Great Britain cycling team and went along the red carpet in front of the paparazzi like all the big stars. Having witnessed it firsthand it was just how I would imagine something like the Oscars would be.

On that night I bumped into James Toseland. He was there as a guest as well, having himself been nominated for the award in 2007 when he won the Superbike World Championship. He was the last motorcycle racer to be up for the title, until now.

In the recent past the BBC has been criticised for having a predictable and narrow range of sport stars nominated for the camera trophy. Minority sports have been marginalized in the face of Team GB’s relentless Olympic medal winners – Mo Farah, Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis – along with the A-listers like Andy Murray and Lewis Hamilton. My own view is that the slow demise of the BBC’s position as the main sport’s broadcaster in the UK, and the cost of broadcasting rights, was limiting their ability to put a show together that could highlight various sporting events. They concentrated on events where they had their own broadcast rights.

Every year at this time I see in my little social media echo chamber the howls of derision that no one from motorcycle racing is considered. Last year I think between them MotoGP, WorldSBK and BSB got about 2 minutes airtime in a three hour show.

When Jonathan Rea won his third successive WorldSBK title at Magny Cours my social media bubble exploded. There were online petitions put together right away to have him nominated for #SPOTY17. To be fair to the BBC in JR’s home country of Northern Ireland they have been huge supporters of motorcycle racing. They broadcast the North West 200 road race live on-line and on the radio each year and they have sent a crew to WorldSBK races to document Jonathan’s championship wins each season. JR has appeared on BBC NI news and sport’s shows as well as one of the biggest chat shows in the country, The Nolan Show. He has become one of the A-listers in what they term as “Our Wee Country”, and quite rightly so.

I knew a week or so before it was announced and was sworn to secrecy but this year Jonathan will line up alongside some of Britain’s sporting royalty as one of the 12 who will go into the public vote for the 2017 title during the live show from Liverpool on Sunday 17th December.

Jonathan has a real chance of lifting the famous silver trophy. Whilst current favourites, Mo Farah, Lewis Hamilton and boxer Anthony Joshua will command a huge proportion of the general viewing public’s, JR will have the backing of a large part of the motorcycle racing fans in Britain and I am sure the whole of Northern Ireland as well.

Part of the show on the night is an edited package that highlights the sport’s stars achievement over the year and hopes to show their personality away from their sport. BBC NI have already been and filmed Jonathan at home with wife Tatia and his son’s Jake and Tyler and a film crew also came to Jerez for the recent test to complete the package. Jonathan is one of those sport’s stars who really does have a ‘personality’ – last year Andy Murray won for a third time! His devotion to his racing is clear but that takes equal billing to his family life and that will be something that will hopefully come across to the voting public.

I guess as motorcycle racing fans we should make the most of his nomination this year. The likelihood of another British star being nominated in the future is minimal, unless of course there is a four-in-a-row for JR. So lets all get voting and give our man the best chance of winning. I have one fan here that wishes he was treading the red carpet again on the night and his phone is burning a whole in his pocket waiting to vote.

Photos by GeeBee Images

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