When a year comes to the end, it is time to look back, review the sports achievements of the year and decide who were the best athletes. In many countries, the sports journalists decide who gets this prestigious award, sometimes also the public voting (Switzerland). Public voting is usually more emotional – the crowds love certain athletes because they are nice/good looking/communicate through social media etc. A good example is a phenomenon of Roger Federer in Switzerland. The tennis player is the best example of the best athlete – good athlete, polite, communicates to the crowds, has his own foundation and supports young athletes and invests in education programs in Africa, etc. People love him and he gets nominated every year, regardless of his sports achievements.
Photo: Roger Federer Foundation
On the other side, the voting by sports journalists should be more rational. Sports journalists have a wide view on the sports scene, they are in contact with many different sports and know exactly how big is the concurrence in each sports discipline. It is hard to compare sports disciplines, there are no first and second class sports. Each sport has its own beauty, to be the best the one must train hard and have a talent in every sport. However, the sports disciplines can be ranked according to the number of participating countries (how popular they are), the number of participating athletes or the price money at the tournaments. I would go for the first option and in my opinion, sports events should be ranked like:
- (Summer) Olympic Games and Football World Cup
- World Championships (Olympic disciplines)
- World Championships (non-Olympic disciplines)
- World Cup
- Continental Championships (in Olympic disciplines)
- Continental Championships (in non-Olympic disciplines)
- Other competitions
Places from 2 may vary from sport to sport, for example football World Cup is probably event number 2 in the world (or even number 1 for football fans), tennis has its own tournaments which are more important as Olympics, etc.
Olympic sports are certainly of greater importance than other, non-Olympic sports. National sports founding programs usually give financial resources for the athletes who participate in Olympic sports. In this case, all the Olympic sports disciplines are ranked the same.
On the other side, there are still big differences among Olympic disciplines. For example, IAAF (world athletics federation) has 215 member states (remember: United Nations have 193 members), FIFA (football) 211 member states, FINA (swimming) 207 on one side and WR (rugby) 103 or FIBT (bobsleigh, skeleton) only 14. That means there are global sports, that the whole world practices and the other sports that are popular in few countries (like alpine skiing). Which is understandable as for some sports all you need is a ball and a field and for the others mountains and special conditions.
Another fact is, that some sports consist of multiple disciplines (for example FINA consists of diving, swimming, synchronised swimming and water polo, UCI includes BMX, mountain biking, road cycling and track cycling or FIS of cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined, freestyle skiing and snowboarding) and not all the disciplines have the same popularity.
Bearing the above listed facts in mind, I would expect that in an Olympic year, the sports personality of the year would become on Olympic champion (or medallist) in one of most popular sports (like swimming, athletics, cycling, etc).
Let’s see how countries voted.
Second most successful country from Rio 2016, the UK (behind the USA) had a difficult choice. British athletes won 27 gold medals so they were basically choosing emotional. The sports personality of the year became Andy Murray (tennis), following by Alistair Brownlee (triathlon) and Nick Skelton (show jumper). Forth was Mohamed Farah (distance runner with gold in 5000 and 10 000m) and fifth came first woman, Sophie Christiansen (http://www.sophiechristiansen.co.uk/). Not only she is a woman, she has a cerebral palsy and other health problems. She began horse riding at age of 6 as a form of physiotherapy and won Paralympic gold in equestrian in Rio 2016.
Sixth was Kate Richardson-Walsh, a field hockey player who won an Olympic gold with a team and in the same team was also her wife Helen which made them the first same-sex married couple to win Olympic medals. Seventh was Laura Kenny who won Olympic gold and became the most successful female track cyclist in Olympic history. Jason Kenny (track cycling) with 3 Olympic gold medals was only 10th and Adam Peaty (swimmer) who won Olympic gold and broke a world record was 11. There was also a football player Jamie Vardy among first 10 (9th) whose team Leicester City won Premier League.
To sum up: no big surprises in the UK, the gold medals from Rio were in front and it showed that people love the stories behind the success. The biggest (positive) surprise was the first female who participated at Paralympics but it shows that the UK neither makes a difference between men and women, “normal” and disabled, nor does discriminates homosexuals.
Photo: Sophie Chrisiansen
Moving to the middle of Europe to German-speaking environment. Swiss (Switzerland was 24th at Rio medal standings) voted for Fabian Cancellara (Olympic gold in road cycling) followed by Nino Shurter (Olympic gold in mountain bike) and Stanislas Wawrinka (tennis). Lara Gut (World Cup winner in alpine skiing) won in female category, followed by Giulia Steingruber (Olympic silver in artistic gymnastic) and Nicola Spirig (Olympic silver in triathlon). It shows the great popularity of alpine skiing in this alpine country (and Lara Gut won a World Cup race on the day of the voting) but follows the rule “Olympic medals first” after. More surprisingly were the nominees. For example, above mentioned Roger Federer (he was injured the half of a season), who is sports personality number one in people’s hearts and Daniela Ryf, who won an Ironman Word Championships (non-Olympic sport but triathlon and Ironman are very popular among recreational athletes in Switzerland) and a man, who is the best in the sport, that exists only in Switzerland – Schwingen (a kind of wrestling).
Photo: Daniela Ryf after her Ironman World Championships victory at Hawaii 2016 (3,8km swim, 180km bike, 42km run).
Photo: Schwingen. Source: http://www.estavayer2016.ch
In Germany (5th at Rio medal standings) sports journalists vote and they chose Fabian Hambüchen (artistic gymnastics) followed by Jan Frodeno (Ironman triathlon, non-Olympic) and Nico Rosberg (formula one driver). They left behind three rowers (canoe) with 2 Olympic gold each (Sebastian Brendel, Marcus Gross, Max Rendschmidt). In female category, Angelique Kerber (tennis) won in front of Laura Dahlmeier (biathlon) and Kristina Vogel (cycling). The biathlon girl won gold at World Championships, the other two won Olympic medals.
Austria (78th at Rio medal standings) hast the same system – sports journalists vote. The winners in both categories are active in winter sports – Marcel Hirscher in alpine skiing and Eva-Maria Brem in cross-country skiing. Austria’s only medal in Rio was in sailing (bronze) and they also became a team of the year. As Austria had no individual medals from Olympic games it was expected for them to vote for their best athletes in the most popular sports in the country.
Photo: Marcel Hirscher, source: https://www.atomic.com/
Turning to the south, we come to Slovenia. The tiny country with the population of less than 2 million squeezed between Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia won 4 Olympic medals (45th at Rio medal standings). However, it seems like winter sports are the most popular there and the sportsman of the year became Peter Prevc (World Cup winner in ski jumping) followed by Vasilij Zbogar (Olympic medal in sailing). Sportswoman was Tina Trstenjak (Olympic gold in judo) followed by her colleague Anamari Velensek (judo as well and medal in Rio). The interesting fact is, that the team of the year became an ice hockey national team just because they qualified for Olympic games.
Photo: Peter Prevc
Crossing another border, we come to Croatia, which won 10 Olympic medals in Rio (7th at medal standings). Sportsman of the year was Damir Martin (Olympic silver in rowing) in front of Josip Glasnovic (Olympic gold in shooting). Sportswoman was Sandra Perkovic, a discus thrower, with her Olympic gold and the team of the year became Andelka Muzinic and Helena Dretar Karic with their Paralympic silver.
I took a look at only few European countries but the list of all Rio medal winners would be much longer (as athletes from 87 countries won the medals) and my post is getting long as well, therefore I would like to conclude with European Sports Personality of the Year. 27 international news agencies selected Christiano Ronaldo (football), followed by Andy Murray on second place and Katinka Hosszu, Hungarian swimmer and 3 times Olympic champion. And the most prestigious world award, the Lareus World Sports Award, was given to Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams.
Photo: Katinka Hosszu
I believe it is great that the best athletes are being honoured and rewarded. However, there are millions of athletes in the world who practice very hard and love their sport. Everyone is a winner! Dear reader, love sports, stay healthy and have a happy new year!
Source Switzerland: https://www.credit-suisse-sports-awards.ch/de/
Source Germany: http://www.sportler-des-jahres.de/
Laureus World Sports Awards: http://lwsa16.laureus.com/winners/
Rio Medal Table: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Summer_Olympics_medal_table
Photo Roger Federer: http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/news/federer-foundation-malawi-july-2015