Last Sunday evening, Welsh cyclist Geraint Thomas was crowned as the 2018 Sports Personality of the Year. Thomas finished above Lewis Hamilton and Harry Kane to claim the award and become the first Welshman to win the title since Ryan Giggs back in 2009. The Team Sky rider was also the fourth British cyclist to scoop up the award, following in the footsteps of Sir Chris Hoy in 2008, Mark Cavendish in 2011, and Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012.
Social media reacted in a very positive light to the crowning of Thomas as champion, with the likes of Gareth Bale and former winner Cavendish each singing their praises immediately afterwards.
The British nation was thoroughly entertained by Thomas’ magical victory in the Tour de France over the Summer. He became the first Welshman in the history of the event to wear the Yellow Jersey down the Champs-Élysées. 2018 certainly marked a standout year for the Welsh rider following his struggles in the Giro D’Italia and Tour de France the previous year. This year, Thomas emerged stronger than ever and typified his resilient nature with such a prestigious win in France.
On receiving the award for Sports Personality of the Year, Thomas rather humbly mentioned “I should really have thought about what I was going to say”. Later on, the newly crowned champion gave his thoughts on the surging popularity that the sport of cycling has undergone in recent years; “To see people on their bikes and enjoying it, you take just as much pride from that as winning something like this”. Geraint Thomas’ victory capped a fantastic year for cycling in general and was highly representative of Sky’s efforts to spread awareness for the sport. Rumours are emerging now that the UK company may pull out of their backing of the sport, with there being arguably little more that needs to be achieved in the future.
While the SPOTY awards accentuate the significant growth in popularity and participation that cycling has experienced recently, they also highlight the severe lack of appraisal for minority sports. Snooker and Boxing fans were appalled to see the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Tyson Fury failing to make the shortlist for the award. While a character like Tyson Fury may divide public opinion, few can deny the transformation that he has undergone in 2018. Fury himself has mastered his own personal difficulties by losing 10-stone, conquering mental health issues, and in his profession, forcing a draw against WBC Heavyweight Deontay Wilder. In the case of the English Snooker giant O’Sullivan, aggravations on account that he was not nominated may be more concrete, especially when examining the statistics.
Following his successful defence of the 2018 UK Championships earlier this month, ‘The Rocket’ Ronnie became the all-time leading winner of Triple Crown events, surpassing Stephen Hendry’s record of 18. This year, O’Sullivan also picked up famous wins at the Players Championship, the World Grand Prix, the Shanghai Masters, and the Champion of Champions. The fact that O’Sullivan has not once been nominated for the SPOTY awards after 25 years on from his first UK Championship victory emphasises the lack of media focus that is given to minority sports such as Snooker.
Golf is equally another sport that has fallen into the same category in recent times. At the Sports Personality awards four years ago, golfing fans were left baffled after Rory McIlroy received almost half the number of votes as Lewis Hamilton did in the ceremony, as the F1 World Champion swept up the award. That year, McIlroy put on an imperious display of sporting excellence, collecting two Major Championship victories along with awards for Player of the Year on both the PGA and the European Tours. This year, golf seems to have accumulated a greater degree of public acknowledgement as Francesco Molinari was dubbed the World Sport Star of the Year following a season of sporting brilliance signposted by his win at The Open Championship in July. However, in the women’s game, there was much cause for concern after very little attention was paid on the night to the efforts of Georgia Hall, who secured her first Major victory at the Ricoh Women’s British Open in August.
The main takeaway from the awards ceremony is that blockbuster sports like Football, Athletics, and Formula 1 explicitly receive more preferential treatment when compared to minority sports. The skillsets of Snooker players and golfers, for example, seem to be paid far less attention to by Panellists and members of the general public, something that can surely be attributed to overall media coverage. There can be no denying that from the list of nominees put forward by the Panellists, Thomas was the most deserving winner. Yet, when looking at the list of names that were put forward this year, we need to recognise the disturbing lack of minority sports representatives. These sports cannot hope to grow if their ambassadors continue to be shunned in the future at the SPOTY awards.