Personality goes a long way with SJA’s winners

Bigger is not always “better”, especially in an era of diminishing TV sports rights. Which is why, JON RYAN argues ahead of tonight’s Sports Personality of the Year, the SJA’s British Sports Awards gets things just right

There were many memorable moments at the SJA British Sports Awards on Thursday. Such as watching Sir Michael Parkinson stand in front of a giant video screen where a much younger Parky was interviewing a much younger and wonderfully bright-eyed Mohammed Ali.

Patrick Collins presents Jessica Ennis-Hill with the SJA's Sportswoman of the Year trophy. Will Ennis-Hill be the British public's choice tonight?
Patrick Collins presents Jessica Ennis-Hill with the SJA’s Sportswoman of the Year trophy. Will Ennis-Hill be the British public’s choice tonight?

It was from 1981. As Ali proclaimed that he was, indeed, The Greatest, the young Parkinson said, “I am not going to argue with you.”

The boxer responded, memorably, “You’re not as dumb as you look.” It was as good a place as any to end the video compilation.

It was surreal as the past unfolded behind Parky, but what was wonderful was to see all of our 2015 award-winners in a line behind him, staring intently at the screen at some of Sir Michael’s delightful and delighting sporting guests, as we marked his decade’s service as President of the SJA, and lifetime’s work as a great sports journalist.

The afternoon had been full of bright moments: the smiling, honest and modest Dina Asher-Smith balancing working for a history degree at King’s College London with being one of Britain’s greatest athletics prospects.

There was Alex Danson who, sitting at our table, was reduced from international hockey superstar to nervous wreck as she went up to get the SJA Committee award acknowledging a great year and a great career.

Back in 2001, Danson had been runner-up in the BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year. Not sure that she figured in this year’s shortlist for Belfast tonight. She spoke about the hockey family’s loss of two young players Abby Webb and Tom Wilson who died recently.

One by one the winners went up and reacted graciously and spoke generously about their sports and what they had brought to them. Jessica Ennis-Hill, Ollie Hynd and Jordanne Whiley charmed and amused an audience that included many of the leading names in sports journalism past and present.

Greg Rutherford said his piece without even mentioning the new world heavyweight champion by name. He defended his position with simple elegance but without it detracting from his pride at being chosen as our Sportsman of the Year. And yes, he will be going to SPoTY tonight.

The yawning gap between the two sports awards events seems to grow greater every year. Yes, they were both formed to acknowledge great achievements in sport. We began in 1949 and Sir Paul Fox’s BBC brainchild was launched in 1954.

But as the BBC’s sporting coverage has diminished, so their flagship annual event has grown and grown with so much razzmatazz you wonder how good they might be if they actually devoted as much effort to sport itself.

The real difference is that at its heart, the SJA event is about journalists honouring those they feel have contributed to sport. It is people in the know using their knowledge to pick those who deserve to be in the spotlight.

Hockey's Alex Danson received the SJA Committee Award from Sarah Juggins. There was poignancy when Dabson spoke about two recent tragedies in her sport, hockey
Hockey’s Alex Danson received the SJA Committee Award from Sarah Juggins. There was poignancy when Dabson spoke about two recent tragedies in her sport, hockey

The harsh outside world did make a minor appearance at the event on Thursday, when Jim Rosenthal passed on the news that Jose Mourinho had been sacked by Chelsea. Cue the exit of several leading football writers heading back to the office.

No one could complain that the ceremony was too short as we headed out into the dark of a London’s winter evening, but it had shown why it survives. Katherine Grainger left with the National Lottery Spirit of Sport Award having spent the morning training on the water in her remarkable bid to get to the Rio Olympics.

Like all the winners, her enthusiasm just to be involved in sport was clear as she spoke about the gap she felt when she retired and that drove her back to competing. Parky expressed his good fortune at having been involved in sport as a writer and interviewer and his pride in the SJA – indeed without his drive during his presidency, the awards might not still be happening.

In the words of these two there was the essence of the event. It was not without a certain irony that on the morning of the awards Michael Henderson wrote a piece in the Daily Mail under the words “BBC Sports Personality of the Year Was once a great showpiece but now it’s a noisy pageant of little significance ….the only was to save it is vote for Jessica Ennis-Hill”.

The SJA certainly did. Tonight, you will know if Hendo’s advice was heeded by the Great British Public.

For the SJA’s press release, the final results of our members’ polling and all the award-winners from the event, please click here

For more pictures from the event, click here

Keith Elliott’s View from Table 14

  • The SJA is the largest member organisation of sports media professionals in the world. Join us: Click here for more details
  • This year, the SJA’s nominated good cause is The Journalists’ Charity. To find out more and how you can donate on a one-off or regular basis, go to