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Ronnie O'Sullivan snub: Clare Balding and a dancing horse have better chance of winning farcical

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ByDesmond Kane
13/12/2014 at 13:35

Ronnie O'Sullivan washed up on the latest edition of the BBC's salivating Saturday Kitchen programme airing his thoughts on his favourite tucker and apparently proving as capable in chopping up some shallots as cooking up a storm with a snooker cue. Elsewhere, the irony flying around was as delicious as a flaming Christmas pudding.

Prior to flying to Glasgow for the latest dusting down of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday evening, the omnipresent Beeb presenter Clare Balding was picking up a few shillings more for penning a magazine column for a leading supermarket chain.

Balding used her contribution to highlight why O'Sullivan was "still the best in the business". It was not exactly War and Peace. In fact, it could be scribbled down on the back of a fag packet, but the general theme was about right as Balding compared O'Sullivan to Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Lewis Hamilton. Heady company.

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In fact, she described O'Sullivan and Judd Trump as "rock stars of snooker" after a throbbing UK Championship final last Sunday ended with O'Sullivan completing a rousing 10-9 win in York.

BLOG: Clare Balding: He's still the best in the business

You have to ask the question then, Clare: why are you and the rest of the BBC's travelling circus on a flight to Glasgow for the SPOTY award, and O'Sullivan isn't?

According to some PR bloke, O'Sullivan received his invitation to the Sports Personality of the Year a few weeks ago. Which is probably as big a waste of paper, time and a stamp that one can dream up without burning it. Like Balding in her column, whoever sends out the invites failed to spot the satire in inviting O'Sullivan to such an oddly self-satisfied gathering.

A bit like the panel of judges who come up with 10 nominees that adds to the farce that already laces Auntie's yearly cult get-together that has turned into a lesson in being politically correct rather than rewarding true value.

Why are the BBC inviting one of the country's most exceptional sporting talents to attend an event that he has never been nominated for? In 23 years of entertaining millions of sports fans in the UK and abroad, the BBC have failed to recognise a figure who is the greatest snooker player to pick up a cue. In terms of longevity, it says enough that O'Sullivan already qualifies for the show's Lifetime Achievement Award being doled out this year to Chris Hoy.

In chatting to O'Sullivan, you quickly learn that he cares more about running than personal adulation, but he does wonder why the public broadcaster continues to overlook him for a nomination.

Ronnie O'Sullivan blog: Why I'll never attend bizarre BBC Sports Personality Award

Is it because of his roots, or his background? Or the controversy that has illuminated his persona over the years? Not only should he have been nominated, O'Sullivan should have won the SPOTY.

When you study the list for this year's gong, you do have to question the credentials of the panel of experts making the call.

O'Sullivan's snub is not only thoroughly embarrassing, it is disgraceful. Charlotte Dujardin has been nominated for a spot of horse-dancing, or dressage as it is better known, with her horse Valegro.

You would have been as well nominating the Newcastle United fan who decided to do a spot of horse boxing a few years back. You couldn't make it up. But in the Beeb's case you can. You would have got a better list of candidates asking the horse.

I'm not belittling the glorious spirit of Kelly Gallagher, a visually impaired skier and her guide Charlotte Evans who are nominated, or any dancing horse, but there are other ways to recognise such notable achievement. Quite why have some of these nominees have been catapulted into the reckoning for an award that is supposed to reward true greatness in British sport is beyond this onlooker.

It seems as though the list has been drawn up via one of those equal opportunities monitoring forms. If you tick the right boxes, you make the SPOTY award list.

I put a similar case forward for the world boxing champion Carl Froch a few years ago. Incidentally, he makes the cut this year, but as soon as you question the validity of the thought process, the PC brigade immediately accuse you of being sexist, racist or having an agenda.

One also suspects some PR sorts have been busy pushing the case for sports that are left in the doldrums in comparison to the handsome viewing audiences snooker continues to command: Mark Selby's win over O'Sullivan in the world final in May attracted nine million viewers over two days despite being consigned to BBC Two.

If we are going to stick to the voting guidelines, I'd like to know why the horse hasn't been nominated. Isn't that a form of equestrianism against the poor mare?

O'Sullivan won a fifth UK title after breaking an ankle, including producing a magnificent 13th televised maximum. Could Rory McIlroy have managed such a feat around Augusta?

If we are judging personality - the clue is in the word - success, talent, skill and professionalism should be the only criteria.

At the age of 39, O'Sullivan is coming off arguably his most productive year in the sport having picked up the Masters, Welsh Open, Champion of Champions and the UK titles. Anybody who sat through the UK Championship final would have luxuriated in a contest between two fabulous players. It produced entertainment, character, self-belief and courage that any sport would have been proud of.

O'Sullivan won his fifth world snooker title in 2013 after taking a year off. Nobody else in any other sport could have ascended to such levels. It was an achievement that will never be bettered, but there was no room at the BBC inn.

If O'Sullivan was a woman, and failed to pick up a nomination, there would be a massive protest outside of the BBC. But because he is a guy, it is overlooked.

Remember, snooker is a sport open to both sexes. There is no physical reason why a woman cannot be as potent as a man.

Yet snooker is again shamefully overlooked when the favourite for the award is McIlroy, a sportsman who needs to be no more or less fit than O'Sullivan to succeed in golf using the same set of skills with brain, eye and hand coordination.

What is even more bizarre is that snooker is one of the few meaningful sports that the BBC retain rights to.

Yet it continues to be shunned. According to the talk back in the day, the BBC apparently handed Steve Davis SPOTY in 1988 because the contract to broadcast live snooker was coming up for renewal. That was back when they used to wheel out Frank Bruno and Daley Thompson to do some putting. These days, it is presented like The X Factor, costing thousands upon thousands of unnecessary pounds to stage a tinpot award that has been won by Zara Phillips, a member of the British Royal family.

There is a cultural snobbery that snooker struggles to shake off in this country. It was a game for working men emerging from smoky halls 50 years ago, but has now been warmly embraced by China and Eastern Europe.

In trying so hard not to offend people, the BBC has managed to offend the very spirit which the award was created for. O'Sullivan is destined to go down in history alongside George Best, Bobby Charlton and Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins as figures who should have collected the award with some ease.

Feasting his eyes over a few festive dumplings with the ongoing celebrity chef James Martin is the nearest O'Sullivan will get to something tangible from the BBC this weekend.

Like some of the dreadful characters who have collected knighthoods, the cult SPOTY jamboree remains one of Britain's greatest sham awards.

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