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Sports Personality of the Year: The ingredients that make a winner

| 06.12.2021

Can you bet on Sports Personality of the Year?

The 68th edition of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award will be held on December 19th 2021.

To work out who could win the vote this year, we’ve analysed the public’s selections throughout the award’s history to identify patterns and trends that could influence the odds.

Which sport has won Sports Personality of the Year the most?

First of all, let us look at which sports tend to capture the public’s interest. Athletics has been by far the most popular among voters, winning more than twice as many awards as any other sporting category.

While it would therefore be naive to write off any of Team GB’s representatives at the Tokyo Olympics if they make the shortlist, athletics’ dominance has waned in recent years. The last athlete to win the award was Mo Farah in 2017, but before that it was Kelly Holmes back in 2004.

There are six other sporting disciplines which have produced at least five winners to date. The popularity of Formula One drivers means that we can’t rule out a second successive win – and a third overall – for serial champion Lewis Hamilton.

There’s precedent for back-to-back wins, with tennis star Andy Murray topping the voting in both 2015 and 2016, having already taken the award home in 2013.

Speaking of tennis, six of its 10 collective appearances in the top three to date have been winners, so there’s plenty of precedent for favourite Emma Raducanu to do well after her historic win at the US Open.

The world of boxing has also produced five winners – most recently Joe Calzaghe in 2007 – so heavyweight champion Tyson Fury cannot be ruled out as a contender.

There are also rumours that Tom Daley could be in line for the prize this year.

While diving hasn’t produced any previous winners – or second and third placed nominees for that matter – swimming has been represented previously.

However, it’s been 59 years since the last swimmer won the award, with Rebecca Adlington’s third place in 2008 the most notable recent showing.

You’re better off going it alone

We can also consider team sports versus individual efforts, and a clear preference emerges.

Nominees who were part of a team have fared much worse than individual competitors, with only around one in six previous awards being won by somebody who plays a team sport.

While five of the 10 awards handed out in the 2000s went to team players, no other decade has seen this happen more than twice.

In fact, Ben Stokes’ win in 2019 was the only triumph by a team player during the 2010s.

Where do Sports Personality of the Year winners come from?

The capital has produced some legendary sportspeople over the years, with over one in every four awards having gone to somebody who was born in London.

No other region of the UK has produced more than seven winners, with Scotland only yielding one more than the North West of England.

The strong performance of the North West could be good news for Manchester-born Tyson Fury, whose region has performed better than any of the other rumoured favourites.

Hailing from outside of the UK like Emma Raducanu is no barrier to success, with three of the last nine winners – Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah and Ben Stokes – all born overseas.

Has a woman ever won Sports Personality of the Year?

The award has been dominated by men in recent years, with all of the last 14 winners having been male and fewer than one in every five awards having gone to a female nominee.

The most recent female winner was Zara Tindall in 2006 and since then only five women – Jessica Ennis-Hill, Rebecca Adlington, Jo Pavey, Dina Asher-Smith and Hollie Doyle – have even reached the top three in the voting.

A win for Raducanu would therefore be unusual. While a woman has been in the top three in both 2019 and 2020, the scales can’t yet be said to be tipping in their favour.

The golden age for British sporting women was between 1962 and 1972 when there were more female winners than men: six to five.

Since then there have never been two female winners in a row and only around one in six sportspeople to make the top three have been women.

Youth doesn’t beat experience

While young sportspeople can inspire people just as easily as more experienced ones, it’s the latter who tend to walk off with this particular prize.

Only one of the last 20 winners was under the age of 25: the then 24-year-old Jonny Wilkinson after the England rugby team’s World Cup win back in 2003.

Half of the last 20 award-winners were in their late twenties and the other nine had already had their thirtieth birthday before being handed the camera-shaped trophy.

Only two teenagers have ever won the award: 17-year-old swimmer Ian Black in 1958 and 19-year-old footballer Michael Owen 40 years later.

The voting public have short memories

It pays to have your achievements fresh in the minds of voters, with only three of the last 20 awards going to a sportsperson who hit the headlines before July.

Therefore, nominees who peaked early run a serious risk of being forgotten by the time voting opens. In fact, all of the last 10 winners secured the main achievement cited for their award during the second half of the year.

View the latest Sports Personality of the Year odds



Warren Barner