SJA British Sports Awards 2020: voting opens for sportsman, sportswoman and sports team of the year

Unprecedented is the adjective most used to describe our lives in 2020.

Coronavirus has had such a massive impact on so many individuals and families that we can hardly complain about the way sport has been affected. And yet there has been something indefatigable about the way our footballers kept playing through the summer while the Tour de France and French Open tennis, as well as the London marathon, were postponed until those chilly, autumnal days and out of season.

In our own unprecedented move our December awards will be the first since their launch in 1949 that we’ve staged as a virtual event. But you still have some magnificent candidates to choose from.

SJA sportswoman of the year 2019 Dina Asher-Smith has been keeping her fitness up by racing against deer and unfortunately, we don’t have a category for that. 

Hollie Doyle is no longer just a rising star in the flat racing world. With an unprecedented five winners in a day at Windsor, at odds mark you of 899-1, it was no wonder she reached her century for 2020 even more swiftly than she’d done last year and she was a winner at Royal Ascot too. 

Hannah Cockcroft, SJA sportswoman of the year 2017, beat four of her own world bests in four hours at Stoke Mandeville in mid-September. Sadly, they cannot be officially ratified as world records, because the meeting wasn’t sanctioned by World Para Athletics.

From cycling Lizzie Deignan merits consideration. The shadow of coronavirus has hung over road racing but Deignan has flourished in the difficult circumstances. She’s had three major victories and has been ranked first in the UCI World Tour rankings. Deignan only returned to thread last year after giving birth to her daughter in September 2018.

In boxing, an all British women’s world title fight would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago, but it happened this summer. Terri Harper from Doncaster is only the second Briton after Nicola Adams to hold a world belt after winning the WBC Super Featherweight crown in February, and retained it in the summer, after a draw against her idol Natasha Jonas. 

Meanwhile, in athletics, Laura Muir lowered Dame Kelly Holmes’ British record over 1000m and posted the world’s fastest time of the year in the 1500m.

As for the men’s prize, Lewis Hamilton seems inexorably on course for a seventh F1 title, and a sixth in seven years, after equalling the great Michael Schumacher’s tally of race wins. He also spoke with great dignity in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Hamilton said: “I’m trying to fight and win this championship but I’m also fighting for equal rights. I’m focused on both.” 

Before the lockdown, Tyson Fury knocked out Deontay Wilder to become WBC world champion again in Las Vegas, representing a remarkable comeback for the boxer following problems with addiction and depression. Any chances of a rematch between the two before the end of the year were scuppered, leaving open the possibility for Fury to fight Anthony Joshua in 2021, though if the experience of this year has taught us anything, it is to take nothing for granted. 

Snooker’s “May Ball” took place in July, and an eerily empty Crucible did not stop Ronnie O’Sullivan lifting his sixth World Championship. 

In mountain biking, Reece Wilson mounted a late challenge with his world downhill title, whilst Tom Pidcock was crowned world champion in the electric pedal assisted event at Leogang in Austria.

Cricket scooped both the sportsmen (through Ben Stokes) and team award last year, and they’ve made a play for the same double this year. Before we were so rudely interrupted, there was a superb Test series win in South Africa and after COVID-19 came further Test series victories over West Indies and Pakistan in the Rose Bowl and Old Trafford “bubbles”. New regulations on ball polishing, social distancing and testing became a way of life, but it was business as usual for Stuart Broad as his dismissal of Kraigg Braithwaite brought him his 500th Test wicket. His teammate Jimmy Anderson homed in on 600 Test wickets, and there was drama as he left it to the very last day of the series against Pakistan to become first pace bowler to reach the milestone.

Only Len Hutton and David Gower had scored a test double century for England at a lower age than Zak Crawley, who made his maiden double ton in the third Test against Pakistan. Are the England Test side the favourites for team of the year? 

Perhaps, except that on Merseyside, something special was happening. Not since the days of Sir Kenny Dalglish had Liverpool lifted the top domestic prize in English football. 

When they last did so in 1990, it was still the Football League First Division and, for that matter, we were still known as the Sportswriters Association. But Jurgen Klopp put an end to 30 years of hurt with the ultimate in delayed gratification.

When the suspension came in March, Liverpool were only two victories from claiming the title with 82 points from 29 games, whilst second place Manchester City had a game in hand but only 57 points. Many on Merseyside reported sleepless nights which had nothing to do with a scorching summer, until it was mathematically certain in late June, courtesy of Chelsea’s victory over Manchester City. Sky covered their trophy lifting presentation, but in defiance of social distancing and requests to stay away, fans turned out to celebrate outside the ground.

The Exeter Chiefs made a late bid for team of the year winning the Heineken Champions Cup title 31-27 in a thrilling final.  

Please do make sure you use your votes. Our awards are among the most prized by the nation’s elite athletes because they are chosen by you – the nation’s sports journalists:

Voting has now closed.