The BBC has been accused of having a “London-centric” and “anti-countries of the UK approach” after Belfast boxer Carl Frampton was excluded from the Sports Personality of the Year award shortlist.
Frampton, who in 2016 unified super bantamweight world titles before moving up a division to win the WBA world featherweight title, has claimed he would have made the 16-strong list if he was English and questioned whether the competition was “anti-Northern Ireland”.
Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader, backed the boxer and told MPs on Thursday that the world champion’s exclusion from the list had caused outrage in Northern Ireland.
He said: “Can we have a debate in Government time on openness and transparency within the BBC so that we can explore its London-centric, anti-regions, anti-countries of the UK approach exemplified in its nominations for Sports Personality of the Year, where all but two are from England and Carl Frampton, recognised as the greatest boxer of the year, double world champion at two different weights, has been excluded, causing outrage across the communities in Northern Ireland?
“A timely debate on the ever-growing concern that people have with the BBC would be very timely.”
Responding during the business statement, Commons Leader David Lidington said it would be wrong for ministers to intervene.
He said: “You make the point powerfully and as you would expect me to say the BBC is and rightly should remain independent of ministerial direction.
“But I think the entire House will want to salute the contribution that sports men and women from Northern Ireland make to our national success.
“Long may that continue to be the case.”
Mr Dodds’s intervention in the Commons came after he and a number of other Northern Ireland MPs tabled an early day motion condemning the BBC for failing to include anyone from the Province on its award shortlist.
Frampton became the first boxer from Northern Ireland to win world titles at two different weights when he beat previously undefeated Mexican Leo Santa Cruz in New York in the summer.
His featherweight victory came after he defeated England’s Scott Quigg in Manchester in February to unify two super bantamweight world titles.
A spokeswoman for the BBC said: “Those people on the shortlist are there in recognition of their sporting achievement and impact, not on the basis of their nationality.
“There have been contenders from the Nations on the shortlist every year since the panel process was put in place, including this year.
“BBC Sport also takes SPOTY to locations around the UK every year, including Northern Ireland in 2015 and Scotland in 2014.”