Ever since England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, Harry Kane has been a smouldering favourite for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. The Spurs striker has already won the golden boot. No wonder many believe he is a shoo-in to lift the famous silver-plated trophy of a four-turret lens camera engraved with many legends of British sport.
Yet history reminds us that footballers and Spoty do not always mix. For while 18 track and field stars have walked away with the award in its 64-year history – with Formula One drivers claiming it seven times and tennis players six – footballers have done so on only five occasions.
Reassuringly for Kane, three of them have come after World Cups – Bobby Moore in 1966, Paul Gascoigne in 1990 and Michael Owen in 1998. However, the last English winner of the golden boot, Gary Lineker, did not even make the podium after his exploits at Mexico 86. Instead Nigel Mansell won the popular vote ahead of the javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread and Kenny Dalglish, who had taken Liverpool to the Double in his first season as player-manager.
Remember, too, that while Kane is considered the likely winner, the bookies have him less nailed on than Anthony Joshua was last year. Joshua had defeated Wladimir Klitschko in a heavyweight Wembley epic but could finish only fourth as the nation elected the most left-field podium in the event’s history, with a shocked Mo Farah narrowly pipping the motorcyclist Jonathan Rea and the Paralympic sprinter Jonnie Peacock.
In recent years the rugby league star Kevin Sinfield and the showjumper Nick Skelton have also made the podium, a consequence, surely, of having a 12-name longlist filled with every flavour of sporting star. This year, however, the rules have been tightened and a smaller shortlist, which will be revealed only on the night, should make for fewer surprises.
In its 65th year, there are changes afoot for the BBC’s flagship sports review
Sports personality of the year The shortlist of contenders for the main award will be revealed during the ceremony for the first time. Among the names expected to feature are Harry Kane, Lewis Hamilton, Dina Asher-Smith and Geraint Thomas. How it works Once the shortlist has been revealed there will be a public vote to decide the winner, announced at the end of the show.
World sports star Formerly known as the overseas sports personality of the year. The public must choose the winner from a four-strong shortlist: Simone Biles, Ester Ledecka, Francesco Molinari and Oleksandr Usyk. How it works Online public vote which closed yesterday.
Greatest sporting moment Another public vote from five contenders: England’s netball gold; England footballers win the World Cup round of 16 penalty shootout against Colombia; Alastair Cook’s farewell century; Tiger Woods’ first win in five years; Tyson Fury fights back from knockdowns. How it works A new award based on an online vote that closed on Friday.
Team of year There is no shortlist as such but expected to be among the contenders are England’s Commonwealth Games-winning netballers, England’s World Cup footballers, Ireland’s rugby union grand slam winners and Europe’s Ryder Cup golf team. How it works A panel of experts debated the candidates and chose a winner by majority vote, which will be announced during the show.
Coach of year Expected to be among the contenders are England’s netball coach, Tracey Neville, and the England football team’s manager Gareth Southgate. How it works Chosen by the panel of experts in same way as the team award.
Hot on Kane’s heels, according to the bookies, is Geraint Thomas after his bravura performance at the Tour de France. It surely does not help the popular Welshman’s cause that Team Sky were heavily criticised for “crossing an ethical line” by a parliamentary select committee in March. However, there is a caveat: unlike Sir Bradley Wiggins or Chris Froome, he has never obtained the highly controversial therapeutic use exemption certificates while winning races.
Lewis Hamilton also has a chance of glory, after his fifth F1 world title, although last year’s Paradise Paper revelations that he avoided £3.7m in tax on his private jet may count against him. Meanwhile, there could be a groundswell of support for Dina Asher-Smith or the double Olympic skeleton champion Lizzy Yarnold as they bid to become the first woman to win the award since Zara Phillips in 2006. Incredibly, we are in the longest period in the show’s history without a female winner.
It is probably worth exploring this a little more. Women’s sport in Britain is more prominent and successful than it has ever been, while the BBC has included more female athletes on their shortlists in recent years. Yet fewer female sports stars are winning it. In the past 11 years the only three women even to make the podium are the athletes Jessica Ennis-Hill and Jo Pavey and the swimmer Rebecca Adlington.
Yet women won the trophy four times in the 1960s, three times in the 1970s and several more times in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. Certainly if Asher-Smith were to buck the trend she would be a worthy victor, having won three European titles, Commonwealth gold and set world-leading times in the 100m and 200m. As would Yarnold, having become in Pyeongchang the first Briton to defend a Winter Olympic title. This time, however, they may have to battle it out for bronze behind Kane and Thomas.