Poignant sports personality awards in store as Covid curbs celebrations

It should be light and sparkle, but the favourite, Emma Raducanu, is in quarantine

It won’t be the most important reminder of the continuing scourge of Covid-19, but another poignant edition of the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (Spoty) awaits on Sunday.

A week ago, the British broadcaster was looking forward to hosting 600-700 people from the world of sport, all of them dashing through Salford Media City in their frocks and tails to attend a gala ceremony full of light and sparkle. It would be a return after last year's locked-down event. Now, however, that crowd is to be comprised of "essential" individuals only and the favourite for the award is in quarantine in Abu Dhabi.

Emma Raducanu is the star in lockdown, the teenage tennis sensation halfway through her quarantine for a case of Covid-19 which thankfully appears to have brought only mild symptoms. She remains odds-on favourite with the bookmakers to become the first woman to win the award since Zara Phillips in 2006.

The BBC will hope for a video link-up with Raducanu on the night, but anything more ornate or personalised will be out of bounds. An inability to properly celebrate Raducanu’s fairytale success is only the chief frustration in a year that deserves to be commemorated with gusto.

Spectacular achievements

Other names on the shortlist for the main Spoty award cover most of the spectacular achievements of the past 12 months. Raheem Sterling is named, the leading figure in England's run to their first major football final since 1966. Second favourite Tom Daley and Adam Peaty represent British success at the Olympics, with Daley also winning hearts and minds with his persistence (winning gold at his fourth Games) and his pioneering representation of the LGBT community. Peaty, meanwhile, is a straightforward performance monster, unbeaten in the 100m breaststroke in seven years, and the same can be said of Dame Sarah Storey, who became the most successful British Paralympian of all time with dominant performances in four different events.

In making an appeal for Spoty votes on social media, Storey acknowledged the eerie nature of competing in Covid times. The number of messages of congratulation she had received, Storey said, "just go to show what amazing support there is out there, just as we had out in the Games in Tokyo. I don't think I had ever anticipated just how overwhelmed I was going to be by the idea of an empty stadium when I finished that first race in the individual pursuit, we really felt the difference in not having the fans there too."

Threatened to sue

Storey also declared her nomination an "incredible honour . . . in such an incredible year". This is certainly more than Tyson Fury managed, the heavyweight boxer – who emerged victorious from one of the all-time great title fights in October – makes the shortlist but had threatened to sue the BBC if he did. This week, he appeared to have dropped the legal threats, though his antipathy towards the BBC remained. "Even if they want to give me another special award, which they did once, I won't be making another speech for them," he told the Mail. "Anyhow, I believe my four nominations are a record."

It's fair to say that Storey's remarks come closer to the spirit of Spoty than Fury's do. It will indeed be difficult for the ceremony to shake the gloom everyone is feeling, and perhaps the regret of not being able to do more with this spectacular year. However, the ceremony is at its best when celebrating the success of those who triumph despite adversity, most specifically in the special Helen Rollason award. In the end Spoty increasingly shines when it celebrates human as much as sporting achievement, and that will still be in evidence on Sunday night.

– Guardian