Jo Swinson MP questions BBC on all male Sports Personality shortlist

The very first thing that Alex Jones said on Monday evening when the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year was announced live on the One Show was “they’re all men”. She sounded quite shocked – and rightly so.

She was not alone. World champion swimmer Rebecca Adlington took to Twitter to say that there were many women in sport who deserve recognition this year.

Attention was also given to how those shortlists were made up – voted for  predominantly by male sports editors of national newspapers and, inexplicably,  representatives of lads’ Mags Nuts and Zoo.

Four MPs, our own Jo Swinson, and Labour’s Stella Creasy, Alison McGovern and Joan Walley, have asked for a meeting with BBC Director General Mark Thomson to “discuss how to improve the celebration of women in sporting life.”

Their letter to him said:

This outcome is extremely unhelpful to the promotion of women’s’ sport in the UK.  It will result in the annual TV programme – usually a great occasion for British sport – ignoring women’s achievements in 2011.

This bias has led to a number of outstanding sporting achievements by women being entirely disregarded. Rebecca Adlington, Keri-Anne Payne, Victoria Pendleton, Chrissie Wellington, Nicola Adams, Jessica Ennis, Sarah Stevenson,  Beth Tweddle, Hannah England and Kath Grainger, among others, have all been fantastically successful within their respective fields, yet none have made the shortlist.  Chrissie Wellington, for example, has set two new world records in 2011. She even won the 2011 Ironman World Championship race despite suffering from a number of serious injuries, but has not received any recognition for this on the shortlist.

A great deal of work is done each year by the sporting community to encourage women and girls into sport, and the absence of women from this award severely undermines those efforts.

They specifically raised the issue of the inclusion of Nuts and Zoo while women’s and sports magazines were left out of the process and asked for action to make sure that we don’t end up with an all male shortlist in future years.

We will bring you news of the reply they receive in due course.



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  • Have you actually looked at how the different judges voted? Lots of women were voted for, just none of them consistently.

  • Jonathan da Silva 30th Nov '11 - 3:02pm

    Hard to say any female sportspeople definitively deserved recognition even allowing for low profile. The call here is effectively for quotas and tokenism ? Patronising effectively which is as dangerous and pernicious a form of bigotry as outright sexism.

    The real issue is to raise the profile of female sport. This will not be done by tokenistically fitting women into an award. The danger with the cheap gimmicists of Westminster is they always tackle symptoms not the cause.

  • It was the votes of Zoo and Nuts that gave Amir Khan the 10th place ahead of Becki Adlington.

    Also the MEN are clearly unaware of the rules of what they were voting for as they voted for 3 overseas footballers

  • Oh – MEN above means Manchester Evening News rather than people of male gender!

  • Mark Pack Caron Lindsay 30th Nov '11 - 5:09pm

    It’s not tokenism at all – these women are world champions in their own right and they have been unfairly overlooked. I think that the fact that something like this can happen is a huge sign that we need to rethink the way we promote sport in this country.

    This is one of the most prestigious sports awards in the country – it’s showed at prime time and has money thrown at it. To present an all male shortlist when there are equally female contenders is wrong – and the fact that they included Nuts and Zoo in the sporting process but no magazines aimed at women shows that it is very deeply flawed.

  • Tony Dawson 30th Nov '11 - 6:21pm

    This silly award is all about the cult of celebrity and nothing much to do with sport. Having said that, the discrimination against women is institutionalised in the process and needs kicking out.

  • “This silly award is all about the cult of celebrity and nothing much to do with sport.”

    What utter rubbish Tony. Particularly as the current holder is Tony McCoy.

    @Leslie – AIUI It was the sports editors on that list who drew up the lists – so it makes sense to use the major newspapers. I don’t find Nuts & Zoo any more distasteful than the Mail. I just never realised they had such in depth coverage of sport.

    Out of interest is there a single magazine targeted at women that has regular coverage of sport (either male or female)?

  • Tony Dawson 30th Nov '11 - 9:02pm

    I reckon ALL awards programmes are self-indulgent faff. Oscars downwards. People who are good at what they do are good at what they do. Pathetic attempts to rank oranges against carrots are just commercial diversion.Is horse riding really a sport? I rate it seriously below FOCUS delivering 😉

  • The real problem seems to be that a good opportunity to promote women’s sport is being missed. But there will be more, the coalition’s huge cut in the BBC’s budget could mean much more coverage, because it’s much cheaper.

  • Could this not be solved more easily and equitably by having two awards – i.e. Sportsman of the Year and Sportswoman of the Year?

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