The heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua heads a 12-strong shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award that contains nine reigning British world champions from sports as diverse as taekwondo, speed skating and motorcycling. However, eyebrows will be raised at the absence of any Lions players from the drawn tour of New Zealand in
the summer – or the England rugby union team who won a second successive Six Nations title. Only two rugby union players have made the shortlist in the past 10 years in the form of Jason Robinson and Leigh Halfpenny. Owen Farrell, in particular, must be wondering what he must do to earn recognition. This year Farrell not only inspired England to a second successive Six Nations and Saracens to a second European Champions Cup but he was named European player of the year.
He also played a leading part in the Lions tour, hitting every one of his penalty kicks in a thrilling drawn series. With no England male cricketer on the shortlist either – a surprise, given that Jimmy Anderson joined a rare club by taking his 500th Test wicket in September and Joe Root led his team to Test series wins over South Africa and West Indies, and averaged more than 56 with the bat – there may be questions about whether minor sports have too much sway Unsurprisingly Joshua, whose enthralling victory over Wladimir Klitschko for the WBA, IBF and IBO world heavyweight titles at Wembley in April was watched by more than 80,000 people, is a short-priced favourite for the main award, which will be presented in Liverpool on 17 December.
The bookies rate the four-times Tour de France winner, Chris Froome, the recent Formula One world champion, Lewis Hamilton, and Mo Farah, who won 10,000m gold in the world championships in London, as his closest challengers. Women’s sport is also well represented with three world champions on the shortlist – the speed skater Elise Christie, taekwondo’s Bianca Walkden and the cricketer Anya Shrubsole, whose brilliant six for 46 in the final inspired England to World Cup glory. Johanna Konta is included despite a dramatic slump in which she won only two matches after reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals.
The Paralympian Jonnie Peacock, Spurs striker Harry Kane, swimmer Adam Peaty and world superbike champion Jonathan Rea complete the shortlist. There is no place, though, for Phil Taylor, who will hang up his darts after the forthcoming PDC world championship, or Jermain Defoe, whose friendship with the young Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery, who died of cancer in July, was one of the most heartwarming – and sad – stories of the year.