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Murray leads the way for SPOTY 2015 but this 15/8 shot may have more legs in the finishing straight

by Aidan Elder | December 16, 2015

It’s Christmas time.
They come to worship the chosen one from all around.
It’s a lot like the stable scene from the Bible, only with a much greater chance of James Corden turning up.

The BBC Sports Personality is one of those cultural institutions etched into the public psyche. Throughout the year, whenever a home-grown athlete does something remotely good, there’s almost immediately a link made to the Beeb’s famous accolade. You know the scene:

Commentator: “And after 22 long hours here at the World Biscuit-Baking Championships, the Briton finishes just outside of the medals … disappointment today, but more performances like that would almost certainly make him a contender for Sports Personality of the Year”

Obviously that scenario isn’t entirely realistic. Mainly because BT Sports would probably outbid the BBC and Sky for the rights for the World Biscuit-Baking Championships, but whenever a sportsperson does enjoy some success, thoughts of the BBC’s prize is never too far from the mind.

It seems to be an odd mix of predictable coronations and shock results. But is there some order to all the wide grins, excessive back-slapping and inevitable controversy? The Paddy Power Blog has looked back over the 61 years of the award to try and make some sense of it.

Regionally Successful

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One of the best boosts you can get for your chances of winning SPOTY is to have a penis. Sorry Caitlyn Jenner. Men have won nearly 80% of the time leaving women with the lingering sense of injustice that will undoubtedly manifest itself by making their partners watch Made In Chelsea for the duration of their lives. Only three women make the shortlist for SPOTY and with Lucy Bronze and Lizzie Armitstead both priced at 200/1, they couldn’t be a more token gesture if they were handed a rosette that said ‘thanks for coming’ at the end of the ceremony. 

There’s no really strong trends to suggest Jessica Ennis-Hill will win, but a few minor hints that add up to a hunch. On average, a woman has claimed the title once every five years; it’s been nine years since Zara Phillips claimed the title for the girls – Ennis-Hill could be value at . Jo Pavey finished third in last year’s contest after returning at the age of 40 following the birth of her second nipper and claiming gold at the European Championships.

Ennis-Hill won gold at the World Championships this year after giving birth to her first child in the previous year. That’s a similar narrative to Pavey – except that she’s 11 years younger. And much more successful. Maybe there’s just something about the mother who finds time to be a world-class athlete storyline that the public just love.

As a region, Scotland performs well in SPOTY. One win per million of population is a better rate than England, the nation of the other four people in the top five of the betting. That’s a decent straw to clutch at because the English absolutely boss the overall wins, with 43 more victories than the Scots.

Rocking The Vote

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Statistics support Tyson ‘I’m not homophobic but I do think homosexuality’s acceptance is a sign of the end of days’ Fury’s claims even if basically no-one else does. Boxing is tied 3rd as the third most successful sport in SPOTY with five wins and it’s third overall in terms of wins relevant to participation weights. The sport definitely does punch above its weight – crap, really obvious pun intended. In his favour, there seems to be a backlash to the BBC’s backlash creating a super-mega-boomerang-backlash that may energise a portion of the anti-PC Daily Mail readership to vote in his favour, but that’s not likely to be enough. Odds of are big enough to be tempting but victory is about as likely as Tyson making the tea in his house.

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The fact that Formula One over-indexes highly in terms of wins per participation would give some support to Lewis Hamilton’s claims of victory, especially at the huge odds of . The fact that (a) no-one has ever defended the title and (b) he’s a bit of a dick counter that positive trend. Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell are two F1 heads who managed to win SPOTY twice, but neither managed it in consecutive years.

In terms of overall wins, athletics leads the way by a distance with 17 wins. That’s partially because it’s a catch all phrase for a number of disparate sports with no actual connection each other except we only pay attention to them about once every two years. It’s also because the British public seem to be able to identify with the demands of running real fast. Three of the last four female winners of the award were runners (Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe and Liz McColgan) and although Hill-Ennis is more than just that, it’s the category she’ll be lumped in to. Which is no bad thing for her chances.

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The fact that Andy Murray won in 2013 doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t win in 2015 at odds of , but as a sport, tennis doesn’t figure overly highly on the wins-to-participation-ratio. Plus basically all he did in 2015 was win a competition Great Britain hadn’t won in ages that only middle-aged middle-class people really care about. The acid test is how many times in 2015 did someone come up to you and say:

‘did you see that Davis Cup doubles rubber between Italy and Kazahkstan? It was epic!’

If the answer is less than one, you can see my point. Murray is the favourite, but he may well be worth opposing.

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A rugby league representative has never won SPOTY, but the sport will scarcely have a better chance in the shape of Kevin Sinfield. The Leeds Rhinos legend is third favourite for the award and his claims are boosted by the fact his character is very much in keeping with the Salt of the Earth type/Working Class Hero personas that play very well with the SPOTY voters.

Have a try at picking out the winner of BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015

Determined and aggressive on the field, squeaky clean and courteous off it, his northern tones and sensible haircut make him a likeable and inoffensive character. That said, Jessica Ennis-Hill would also tick a lot of those boxes and Andy Murray could, depending whether or not you think he tips over slightly into the ‘Bit of a Dick, but Very Good’ category. Tyson Fury would be a Working Class Hero is it wasn’t for his ‘beliefs’ which will put him firmly in the dick category for many voters.

Somewhat supporting Sinfield’s chances are the efforts of Super League TV who have launched a campaign, somewhat undermining them are the fact it’s been viewed by about 5,000 people to date.

A League Of His Own

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A win for Sinfield would very definitely fit into the late career accolade category. With seven Super Leagues, three World Club Challenges and two Challenge Cup medals currently resting in his trophy cabinet, the 35 year old has switched codes to try a spot of rugby union. That’s basically retirement. The good news is that some SPOTY winners have won the award later in their careers in a sort of ‘Lifetime Achievement’ way, not linked to their actual achievements in the year. Ryan Giggs and Tony McCoy are the most recent beneficiaries of the phenomenon in 2009 and 2010 respectively. A repeat of this would make Sinfield’s odds look very generous.

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It’s hard to know where Andy Murray sits in his career trajectory. He’s not at the peak of his success, but he’s not far off and not exactly at the end of his career. By claiming her second world title this year, Jessica Ennis-Hill isn’t far from her peak of success and that’s a category which has provided nearly 66% of all SPOTY winners.

With a commanding Tour de France victory, the second of his career, Chris Froome is also in that ‘peak of success’ pigeon-hole. That may help his chances at odds of , the constant murmurs about performance enhancing drugs and convenient ignoring of the data he has released to explain his performances probably won’t.

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