Ben Lowry: BBC SPOTY should not go down the quotas road

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
The BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
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BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) has not historically been biased against Northern Ireland.

Using an online list of past awards results, it is easy to add up the names of NI winners, runners-up or third placed contestants over the last 50 years.

There are 151 names in total (not 150, because Torville & Dean were once joint winners). It is well known that there have been three Northern Ireland winners (Mary Peters, Barry McGuigan, Tony McCoy) but there have also been nine 2nd or 3rd places from the Province.

This means that 12 out of the 151 names are from Northern Ireland.

NI has 8% of the top placings, but only 3% of the UK population.

Part of the reason is that some brilliant Northern Ireland names – George Best and McCoy – appear more than once, but even so, it is an impressive tally.

While there are probably times when the fact that an Ulster name might not be as well known as it should be in Great Britain, such as Rory McIlroy in 2014, this is perhaps offset by other times when NI viewers vote regionally, which if anything helps our sporting stars.

At a guess, those two factors cancel each other out.

This is not to deny that Carl Frampton would have been a deserving short list candidate – he clearly would have been, and it is a real shame that his name was not among the finalists after his stunning world victories.

But it will be a problem is SPOTY begins to go down any quotas route.
If the shortlist of 16 always had to have a Northern Ireland name, or a certain number of female names, or a certain number of ethnic minority names, or paralympians, or any other particular group, then it would lead to even more exclusions that are based purely on merit, as of course Frampton’s inclusion would have been.

If SPOTY was to go down the tokenism road, there would come a year sometime in the future in which an NI finalist would be included on quota grounds rather than merit, causing resentment among someone else, such as a deserving, future English equivalent of Frampton, who had been unfairly excluded.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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