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.

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.

Professional Boxers at the Olympics: A Terrible Idea.

Yesterday the International Boxing Assocation (AIBA) announced that they had voted in favour of allowing professional boxers to compete in this year’s Rio Olympics. The AIBA will make 26 places available at a qualifying event set to take place next year in Venezuela.

The move has been welcomed by some professional boxers, most notably Amir Khan who has mooted the possibility of representing Pakistan in Rio. However, on the whole the move has been criticised by boxers, with Carl Frampton, David Haye, and Ricky Hatton all reacting negatively to the decision, and rightly so.

It is not that the move is especially dangerous, as has been suggested by some. In short four round bouts, wearing softer amateur gloves, the move is unlikely to be anymore danger than is already present in boxing. Indeed, it has been suggested by the likes of Carl Froch and Mike Tyson that it would be no surprise to see the best amateurs beat professionals that take part in the competition.

The issue with this decision is that it harms the Olympics. The tradition of the Olympics has been one of the Olympics being the most prestigious event that the athletes taking part have been able to win at this point in their careers. For track and field athletes, swimmers, track cyclists, and rowers this is absolutely the case. Although there are clearly football tournaments which players would consider more prestigious, at least steps have been taken which limit the number of players in each squad who are over the age of 23 to just three. However, with boxing there is little chance that professionals who have already become world champion at professional level will consider an Olympic medal as being prestigious. There is a similar problem with the inclusion of golf in the Olympic Games. It seems exceedingly unlikely that golfers will consider the Olympic title to be on a par with or a higher honour than The Open, The Masters, and The Ryder Cup. For these reasons, golf should also not have been given a place in the Olympic Games. In the London 2012 Olympic Games, Anthony Joshua won the Heavyweight Gold Medal. Joshua has subsequently become IBF professional champion. If Joshua were to take part in this year’s Olympics (which is rather unlikely), and were to defend his title, then it seems unlikely that the gold medal would mean as much to him as the one he won in 2012. This would be in contrast to the amateur boxers who have been training for four years for the chance to compete in the Olympics and will regard it as the highlight of their careers so far. For these athletes winning an Olympic medal will be a pinnacle in their careers and will mean what winning an Olympic medal should mean.

Ultimately, this decision by the AIBA undermines the integrity of the Olympics. The Olympics is supposed to be the pinnacle of the sports which are included in the games, and this decision threatens this. Therefore, the AIBA should reverse their decision before it is too late. Failing this, the IOC should get involved and stop this terrible idea from progressing any further.