Why on earth has Chris Froome not been nominated for Sports Personality of the Year?

Pete Goding via Press Association Images File Photo: Team Sky 2014 Tour de France Team Announcement Chris Froome Sky Procycling team wins the 100th Tour de France i
Tour de France winner, Chris Froome. 

Yesterday evening the shortlist (arguably a longlist given that it contained sixteen names) was announced for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award, with the winner due to be announced on 18 December.

When I saw the shortlist, to my consternation, cyclist Chris Froome had not been nominated. In 2016, Froome won his third Tour de France title, in the process becoming the first athlete to legitimately retain the title since Spaniard Miguel Indurain in 1995 (obviously I’m not including Lance Armstrong whose results have now been expunged from the record books). Given that Le Tour is considering amongst the most demanding events in the sporting calendar, to have retained it, particularly in the swashbuckling style that Froome did, is a phenomenal achievement. Prior to his win in the Tour he won the Criterium du Dauphine Libere (also considered one of the foremost road races in the world) for the second year running, and later in the year he finished second in another Grand Tour, this time the Vuelta a Espana. In addition, he managed a Bronze medal in the Time Trial at the Rio Olympics. Given the scale of these achievements you could make a case for Froome as the winner of the award, but in fact he hasn’t even made the shortlist.

Now, it’s understandable that in Olympic years the SPOTY shortlist is pretty focused on those who have won gold medals at the Olympic Games, but this year they increased the size of the shortlist to sixteen in order to factor that in. One of those nominees is Leicester and England striker Jamie Vardy who is one of two footballers on the list, the other being Welshman Gareth Bale. Bale’s nomination is understandable given his key role in Wales’ fairytale role to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, with Wales being knocked out by eventual winners Portugal, however Vardy’s is less so. Although his Leicester side won the Premier League, with Vardy scoring 24 goals in the process, it is debatable whether this should qualify him for inclusion. Vardy’s big achievement was equally the record for having scored in the most consecutive Premier League games. This was an impressive feat but, it happened in 2015, meaning that it would have made more sense had he been nominated last year. As for his contributions later in the year, he wasn’t even voted as the best player in his club side, with that accolade going to Riyadh Mahrez, and the less said about his contributions to England’s terrible Euro 2016 campaign the better. Instead, Froome should have been nominated.

More than anything else, his not being nominated is perhaps a symptom of the latent distrust for road cycling which still exists following the Lance Armstrong scandal, and which has reared its ugly head again his year with the revelations about Bradley Wiggins’ use of controversial Therapeutic Use Exemptions. However, Wiggins has not actually been found to have done anything wrong, and Froome has been a trailblazer for clean cycling, and so the way in which the sport is somewhat tainted shouldn’t count against him given his phenomenal achievements.

Spare a thought as well for rugby player Maro Itoje who also failed to be nomination for the award. This year was the first season that Itoje featured in the England side, and the twenty-two year old ended it by being nominated for the World Player of the Year Award. Last season, Itoje didn’t lose a single match in which he started for club and country, and typically he was an important part of those wins, playing a significant role as England won a Six Nations Grand Slam and whitewashed Australia away from home. His omission is also extremely unlucky, but perhaps of it being an Olympic year more than anything else.

Of those selected it would unsurprising if Andy Murray retained the award having won Wimbledon, an Olympic Gold, and finished the year as the world number one. However, despite Murray’s undoubted achievements, it would be a bit of a shame if the same athlete won the award in two consecutive years. For this reason, Mo Farah, Sophie Christiansen, Max Whitlock, and Jason Kenny should all be considered deserved winners — as should Froome, even though he wasn’t even nominated.

Is the field for the 2017 French Presidential Election shaping up to be the lowest calibre ever?

If you think that choosing between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, then spare a thought for French voters, given the choice of candidates in their upcoming Presidential election.

Although ten parties have already announced that they will be fielding candidates in the election, there are really only three parties who stand any chance of winning the presidency. These are: The Republicans, the Socialist Party, and the National Front. Currently, only the National Front have selected their candidate for the Presidency, with The Republicans and the Socialist Party set to hold open primaries in due course to decide upon their candidates.

The National Front’s candidate for the Presidency is party leader Marine Le Pen, and the policy positions that she has advocated throughout her career reflect the worst of populist politics. In the past, Le Pen has advocated a complete moratorium on legal immigration, ostensibly as a solution to unemployment, as well as a crackdown on illegal immigration. She has pledged to restore French relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whilst cutting off relations with Turkey who she has accused of supporting terrorism. In addition, similarly to Donald Trump, Le Pen has advocated improved relations with Russia, and has suggested that Russia’s actions in Ukraine were misunderstood. Naturally (for populist politicians at least), Le Pen also wants to leave the Eurozone, leave the European Union, and have a referendum on the reinstatement of capital punishment. Perhaps most well-known of Le Pen’s policy pronouncements, is her pledge for a crackdown on Islam. Le Pen’s repeated pronouncements of the links between Immigration, Islam, and Terrorism, have rapidly gained support in a country where many are terrified after recent terror attacks, and are looking for someone to blame. Le Pen has dangerously used these attacks for political point scoring with the result that she now leads Presidential election opinion polls. However, with the French electoral system, which includes a run-off between the top performing candidates from the first round of voting (assuming no candidate gains 50 percent of the vote in the first round) it looks as though Le Pen could be defeated by whoever she faces in the run-off. Nonetheless, Le Pen’s recent success and popularity showcases the dangerous forward march of the populist right in Europe and around the world.

As for The Republicans, fourteen candidates have thrown their hats into the ring thus far, and more are set to follow (making the French Republican primary much like the American Republican primary). These declared candidates include: former Prime Ministers François Fillon and Alain Juppé, and former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Fillon was Prime Minister under Nicolas Sarkozy, and has spent recent years being one of the strongest critics of President Hollande’s economic policy, as well as his policy of intervention in Syria. In 2015, Fillon accused Hollande of presiding over the ‘pauperisation’ of France, whilst during his time as Minister for Education he was strongly in favour of restricting the wearing of ‘religious signs’ in public. However, with Fillon polling only around 10–12% it seems unlikely that he can challenge Juppé and Sarkozy who are the clear frontrunners. Juppé was Prime Minister between 1995 and 1997, and is the current Mayor of Bordeaux. He could comfortably be described as a moderate centre-right politician, perhaps one of the few voices of reason in the Republican primary. However, he is well-known as a poor public speaker, without the ability to fire up rallies in the way that the populist right have done so successfully, which could hurt him as the race goes on. Despite this, Juppé is currently ahead in the polls by around ten percent.

However, standing between Juppé and the Presidential nomination of the Republican Party is former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Since losing the Presidency to François Hollande in 2012, Sarkozy has looked to rebuild his career. When he hasn’t been pretending to be brilliant at cycling up mountains, he has reinvented himself in the style of Donald Trump, as a populist right-winger hoping that the rising tide of anger in France can propel him to the Presidency. Sarkozy has described France as being on the ‘edge of an abyss’, which is very similar language to that used by Donald Trump in his speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in June. Sarkozy has pledged to follow a hardline stance on immigration, and has been one of the most vocal supporters of banning the Burkini throughout France. In addition, he plans to re-establish the authority of the State, and introduce compulsory military service for those who are not employed or in full-time education at the age of eighteen. It has been clear throughout the campaign that Sarkozy and his advisers feel that the National Front is the main competition in the upcoming election, and that a campaign filled with populist rhetoric is the way forward.

He is probably right. Given the unpopularity of the current President François Hollande, it doesn’t look like the Socialist Party have any chance of retaining the presidency. In 2012, Sarkozy became the first French President since 1981 not to win a second term in office. But it is looking increasingly likely that Hollande will follow suit. Hollande is now the most unpopular President in recent French history, and recent polls have suggested that around ninety percent of the French electorate disapprove of his performance as President. Many French voters feel that Hollande’s handling of the recent terror attacks on French soil has left a lot to be desired, whilst rising unemployment has also heavily contributed to Hollande’s unpopularity. Polling suggests that were Hollande to run for a second term as President, he would be defeated in the first round of the election. Hollande’s potential run for a second term is further complicated by deep divisions within his own party. Several ministers have resigned from the Hollande Government in order to run against him in the upcoming Presidential primary. These ministers include Arnaud Montebourg who was Minister for Industrial Renewal from 2012–14. Montebourg has accused Hollande of a betrayal of the ‘ideals of the left’ following Hollande’s adoption of a more pro-business stance in recent months, with Montebourg running as a firebrand left-wing candidate and promising to bring an end to austerity in France. Another individual who could complicate things for Hollande is Emmanuel Macron, who recently resigned as Economy Minister in order to begin a centrist bid for the Presidency. Macron has never held elected office but has been gaining popularity in recent months. Given the unpopularity of the Socialist Party (which stems from Hollande’s personal unpopularity), Macron is perhaps the only chance the left have of retaining the Presidency. Throughout his time in politics he has successfully distanced himself from the Socialist Party, painting himself as an independent centrist. Ironically, he may now be their only hope.

Therefore, with Hollande looking like he stands no chance of retaining the Presidency, and with it looking like the Socialist Party stand no chance of making the Presidential run-off, it looks as though the French Presidential Election is set to degenerate into a slugging match between members of the populist right. Don’t be surprised if the the two candidates who end up fighting it out for the Presidency are Marine Le Pen and Nicolas Sarkozy, who will compete throughout the election with scary pronouncements for France’s future and strongly worded rhetoric regarding immigration and Islam.

Ultimately, with the current leader in the opinion polls (Marine Le Pen) someone who has previously been on trial charged with anti-Muslim hate speech, and the two most unpopular Presidents in recent French history (Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande) leading the way in the upcoming election, the 2017 French Presidential Election does look set to be one of the lowest calibre elections of modern times, not just in France but in the world.

It’s right to wag the finger at Russia, but ‘clean’ countries must also accept their own failings in the war against doping.

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American swimmer Lilly King reacts to Yulia Efimova’s semi-final victory. 

Given what has been uncovered about the state-sponsored doping programme run by Russia, it is no surprise that the faith of spectators in sportsmen and women is waning. However, although Russia have clearly broken the rules and deserve more punishment than they have received, other countries also need to stand up and accept their share of the responsibility for the doping issues which are permeating elite sport.

In terms of Russia, it is a travesty that any of their Olympic team is allowed to compete given the evidence against them. Although there will be a number of clean Russian athletes, the sheer fact that Russia was undertaking state-sponsored doping on such a large scale means that the whole team should have been banned. To have done otherwise is a huge cop-out on the part of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC have been put to shame by the Paralympics who, on Sunday, banned the entire Russian team from competing in this year’s Paralympic games.

But whilst it is right to throw the book at Russia, other countries (the so-called ‘clean’ countries) should not make the mistake of thinking that this is all that needs to be done. If countries such as the US and UK want to be seen as leaders in the fight against doping, then they should also be throwing the book at any of their athletes who are found to have violated doping regulations.

Take the case of British cyclist Lizzie Armitstead for example. Between 20 August 2015 and 9 June 2016 Armitstead missed three drugs tests. The regulations state that an athlete who misses three drugs tests within a twelve month period is liable to be banned from competing for up to four years. The response to the possibility of Armitstead potentially facing a lengthy ban was that British authorities threw huge amounts of money at the problem, hiring expensive lawyers in order to fight any potential ban. Lo and behold, Armitstead got off scot-free. Many fans also reacted as if the whole thing was nothing but a witch hunt. However, former Olympic rowing champion Zac Purchase had it right when he tweeted: “Imagine what we would be saying if she was Russian.” The answer to this is simple. If Armitstead was a Russian who had missed three drugs tests then there would have been absolute horror that she was allowed to compete in Sunday’s road race, irrespective of the fact that she has never tested positive. I am sure that Armitstead is a clean athlete, however she clearly broke the rules and so should face the consequences. Given the reaction of the British Olympic Association to Russia not being totally excluded from the games, it was rank hypocrisy that they then acted in this way when it was one of their own athletes who had violated doping regulations. If other countries want to be seen as credible on the issue of doping, then they have to throw the book at their own athletes just the same as with Russia. Unfortunate as it is, the only way to ensure clean sport is to make examples of those who transgress.

There is also the problem of what to do with individuals who have previously been caught for a doping offence but now profess to being clean. In the spirit of rehabilitation it seems fair that those who have tested positive once but are now clean are allowed to compete. For instance, Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde who served a two year ban after being caught up in the Operacion Puerto doping case. Valverde has now been back in competition for four years and hasn’t been linked to doping in any way.

However, the same cannot be said for those who are admitted back into competition following a failed test and are then subsequently caught for a doping offence once again. This brings us to the cases of Yulia Efimova and Justin Gatlin. Efimova failed a test in 2014 for the banned steroid DHEA, serving a nine month ban. A year after her return to competition she then tested positive once again, this time for meldonium (the same substance which recently earned Maria Sharapova a two-year ban from competitive tennis). I’m all for giving someone another chance, but for them to then test positive again, that should be the end of it. There is no way that Efimova should have been allowed to swim at the Olympic games.

The same can be said of Justin Gatlin. The American sprinter has also tested positive twice: first he was banned for two years in 2001 after testing positive for amphetamines; and then in 2006 he was banned for eight years (later reduced to just four) after testing positive for a form of testosterone. Gatlin is now back competing and is running the fastest times of his career, meaning that he has a very real chance of winning a medal in the 100m in Rio. The American team were strongly in favour of a mooted ban for any Russian athletes who had tested positive in the past, so why on earth are they allowing Gatlin to compete? If the United States want to be seen as credible on anti-doping then they should have given Gatlin a lifetime ban after his second positive test, and he should not have been selected for this Olympic Games as a result. To be fair to most of the other athletes it seems that they would be in favour of this sort of action, American swimming gold medalist Lilly King said on Wednesday that she felt athletes previously banned for drug offences, such as Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay, should be kicked off the American team. The fact that they haven’t been is rank hypocrisy, and suggests that the United States aren’t truly serious about confronting the scourge of doping in sport.

One of the biggest issues when it comes to preventing doping is the length of bans handed out to those who violate the rules. Efimova, who has tested positive twice, has served cumulative bans of only around one year. The same is true of Chinese swimmer Sun Yang who tested positive for banned stimulant trimetazidine in 2014, he was banned for just three months. If sporting bodies want to win the battle against doping then the only option is to make an example of those who break the rules. For those found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs then a four year ban (a full Olympic cycle) should be the bare minimum. For an athlete that has previously served a ban, then it is fair to allow them back to compete once again. But if they then have the temerity to break the rules again, a lifetime ban is the only option.

Ultimately, if countries that pride themselves upon being seen as ‘clean’ competitors want to eradicate the scourge of doping then they must throw the book at anyone who transgresses, whatever country they happen to represent. In the case of missed drugs tests it is all very well saying that it was simply an error, but to make that error three times is poor and it should be met with a ban, the same as it would be if the violator was Russian. Likewise, it is wrong for the United States to welcome back the likes of Justin Gatlin into the Olympic team. He has been caught for doping offences twice, and to allow him back into the team sets a terrible example for young athletes as well as being a huge step back for the fight against doping in sport.