Joanne O'Riordan: Unsung heroes rarely grace awards

Glitz and glamour of individual awards in reality a fun night out with little substance

Joy Neville is interviewed  after receiving the World Rugby Referee Award during the World Rugby Awards 2017 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. Photograph: Dave Rogers/World Rugby/Getty Images

Joy Neville is interviewed after receiving the World Rugby Referee Award during the World Rugby Awards 2017 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. Photograph: Dave Rogers/World Rugby/Getty Images

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Awards season is by far the best season. Glitz, glamour, speeches that never end, awkward interviews and just great fun all in all. And I’m not even talking about the Oscars.

Every year we face the same old ding dong debates during awards ceremonies. Messi or Ronaldo? Will the public mess up another vote for BBC Sports Personality of the Year or RTÉ Team of the Year?

And every year we have the same furious debates while adamant that a certain sports star/team/type is discredited once again and will never ever be taken seriously.

Whenever Lionel Messi accepts an individual award, we hear the same spiel. As someone said to me before, he’s a bit like the accountant who has his head screwed on and can say the right things.

“This award means nothing to me without the team, if we don’t win, well, I don’t win.”

That’s in contrast with Ronaldo who oohs in triumph after being crowned the best. It’s fun, it’s dramatic, and for a second the PR team has a mini heart attack.

On the plus side, awards shows are great at highlighting causes, giving some cause or team or person a moment in the spotlight . . . the hidden heroes as I like to call them. Seeing Joy Neville receive her World Rugby Referee award I was delighted for her. She was one of the good, joyful and inspiring stories that came out.

Here was someone who was selected as the best because she is, not because of her gender or anything, it’s because she capitalised on the spotlight that was shone on her for being a female referee.

Seeing the New Zealand women’s team get their ‘team of the year’ award was another moment to stand and applaud. They were incredible at the World Cup and continued the domination of New Zealand in world rugby – male and female.

But, for me, I always feel the awkwardness in awards. I see the logical side, but a part of me is cynical. Of course, if you can point to an athlete and say yeah I know them, you’re obviously going to recognise their name on awards shortlists.

Like all sports, the issue with women’s sports is if you are not keeping up with a team, a league, a player, a sport, then it is impossible to know who is hot and who is not. Another major issue with individual awards is that frankly, many people won’t see a sport on mainstream TV unless it’s a major tournament.

Particular achievement

Between the Euros, Olympics and World Cup tournaments, in women’s sport, accessibility to games to watch players causes issues. Tournaments are sometimes the only games voters will see, and some will only see goal highlights. Often athletes are only remembered for a particular achievement that occurred a few years ago, whereas they may have not done anything since.

Dishing out individual awards has generally turned into a somewhat predictable exercise.

On the men’s side, who was the best player for the Champions League-winning side in Europe? Which player got some significant coverage or ludicrous payment or ad campaign? And for a big international competition year, who was the best player on the premier global stage?

That’s all acceptable and easy to understand. Great passing rates, key tackles and other vital skills just aren’t as sexy as Champions League final-winning goals, so an Iniesta, Busquets or Kevin de Bruyne are probably never going to be looked at.

So, if you’re a player who feels that they have been overlooked for an award, don’t worry, we are here for you. Individualised competitions create a lovely spicy sentiment during intense rival games, but all in all, they just create a stir of unnecessary rivalry between fanboys.

As my dad said to me after David Clarke won the goalkeeper All-Star, ‘do you think Stephen Cluxton is casually patting his back pocket or do you think he’s sincerely annoyed?’

It’s the same for all of the other competitions. It’s a fun night out to celebrate how great you are and to highlight important moments but, in the grand scheme of things, all it is is a big glitzy occasion that makes a cool story for your grandkids in 50 years’ time.

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