The BBC has defended the selection panel responsible for picking the controversial shortlist for this year’s Sports Personality of the Year awards.
The broadcaster has come in for fierce criticism for the omission of sporting heroes from Northern Ireland including world boxing champion Carl Frampton, the most successful Team GB athlete in Rio, Bethany Firth, who claimed four medals, and world Superbike champion Jonathan Rea.
Frampton, now a two-weight world champion, claimed on Tuesday that there could have been “anti-Northern Ireland” bias behind the selection.
The Northern Ireland minister in charge of sport, Paul Givan, has now written to the head of sport at the BBC, highlighting what he called a “significant oversight” and requesting the shortlist be revised.
The News Letter asked the BBC whether they would consider the minister’s request but we had yet to receive a response at the time of going to press.
While Mr Givan mentioned the omission of Frampton and Rea in his letter, the minister drew particular attention to the absence of Bethany Firth behind less successful athletes who competed at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio.
He said: “I am particularly surprised that Bethany Firth was not shortlisted for the SPOTY Award. Bethany’s remarkable achievements at the Paralympics, in which she won three gold medals and a silver medal and recorded two world records and one Paralympic record, should be sufficient to merit inclusion in the shortlist.
“Her medal haul made her not only the most successful Team GB Paralympian in Rio but the United Kingdom’s most decorated athlete at the Rio Games and it seems extraordinary that this achievement has been, seemingly, overlooked by the shortlisting panel.”
The BBC said in a statement that members of the selection panel were not chosen for their nationality. “Members of the expert industry panel are selected based on their collective breadth and depth of sporting knowledge,” the statement read.
“They are not chosen on the basis of their nationality.”