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The choice is yours

Roger Mosey | 12:34 UK time, Monday, 28 August 2006

There was an interesting phone-in debate on Radio Five Live last week about Sports Personality Of The Year. One of the main questions: is there one this year? Five Live listeners voted Nicole Cooke as one of their early favourites, though there was a strong lobby for Mr or Ms Nobody. Alastair Campbell is someone else voting Cooke.

Well, the show will happen as usual and many millions will tune in as they always do. It is, of course, a review of sporting events in 2006 - and from the World Cup to the Winter Olympics, there's been plenty to talk about. And it's interesting just how many times Sports Personality is mentioned in the papers - who's in the running, who's up, who's down. It's an award that means a lot to the winners, and if ever you're stuck in a Pub Quiz in remembering who they all were there are lists on the web.

So who is in contention this year?

As head of sport, I should be neutral - so I had a look at the betting sites this morning. They pretty much all seem to have the same top 5:

Andy Murray at 9-4, or the more exotic 21-10 on one site
Zara Phillips, zooming in at 4-1 after her World Championship yesterday
Monty Panesar at 11-2
Steven Gerrard at 14-1
David Walliams also 14-1

My personal view is that it's great the contest is an open one. If you look back at the other awards this decade, there's been almost no element of surprise. Andrew Flintoff in 2005, Kelly Holmes in 2004, Johnny Wilkinson in 2003 - really not much doubt they were going to win. But there've been open contests in the past: Greg Rusedski won in 1997, for instance, when he made the final of the US Open. (And it's one of those interesting sports debates that Tim Henman has never won despite being British number 1 and having a far better record than Greg at Wimbledon.)

This year much of the chat in newspapers is about whether David Walliams should be a contender or not. In the Daily Telegraph, Sue Mott said it would be like giving an Oscar to Sooty. Matthew Norman in the Evening Standard is one of a number who've cogently argued the opposite: that a magnificent personal achievement by a non-sports star deserves recognition. The debate on the message boards has been lively.

The point, though, is that it's not our decision. We organise the contest, we do the show. We make sure the voting is fair and we have measures in place to stop rigging. But you decide who's Sports Personality of the Year. The outcome may be a surprise to the organisers. I remember as editor of the Today programme in the 1990s being taken aback by our News Personality Of The Year being won by Roy Castle, who was both an entertainer and who was sadly dead at the time of the vote - which made our aim of interviewing the winner somewhat tricky. But we had no doubt that he was the choice of our listeners in that year because of his personal and very public battle with cancer. Today has had similar upsets in its Christmas votes in recent years.

So in December 2006 you'll decide who's this year's Sports Personality. We want it to be a widely- applauded choice. But if not - remember that key phrase from politics, mentioned in the Today link, which seems to have originated by a Californian politician: "the people have spoken... the bastards." We hope you feel in a better frame of mind than that on the night of December 10th - but no guarantees...

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