The problem with #SWOTY

Have you heard of The Sunday Times Sportswoman Of The Year Awards (SWOTY)? You can find more information here. Actually, to be quite honest, you can’t. It’s a flawed process and one of the many flaws is the lack of contact information.

I don’t want to get into the debate as to whether or not women’s only awards should exist. But for those who are unaware of SWOTY, it’s the women’s only version of Sports Personality Of The Year. There are several different categories that women can be nominated in including Community, Lifetime Achievement, Young Sportswoman, and the main category, Sportswoman Of The Year, among others.


sportswoman of the year (swoty)


Sounds good so far, doesn’t it? Various different categories and we, the public, are called upon to nominate our sporting heroines. But there is a big flaw.

You can’t give a reason for nominating someone in the main category. It doesn’t ask for a sport. It doesn’t ask for contact details.

Yet, an expert panel of judges make a decision on who wins. Without receiving any information on the nominees.

I’m not stupid. I know the main award will go to a “mainstream” athlete and that’s okay. What ISN’T okay is the fact that elite women in minority sport don’t matter. We can’t give reasons for nomination or the sport. This means that there is virtually no point in nominating because are we to believe that the judges are going to Google people they haven’t heard of? And with common names such as Smith, are they even going to find the right person? It should be noted that in the category, “Young Sportswoman”, the same applies.

There is no contact information on the website, so I was unable to contact them to ask about this. I play a minority sport and there is a person that I wished to nominate under two categories. Under “Lifetime Achievement”, they asked for my contact details so they could contact me for information about my nominee. It would have made sense if they’d included room to mention the sport and the reasons, but at least there is some attempt to find some further information. Although one has to question their efficiency; by including space to elaborate upon reasons for nomination, the judges would be saving themselves the job of contacting everybody.

Efficient or not, if they ask for contact details under this category and others, why can’t they do so for Sportswoman and Young Sportswoman?

I made contact on Twitter last week and questioned how judges could make their decisions without asking for reasons. Nominations closed yesterday, and it was today that I finally received a response. Here it is:

Morning Helen, sorry for such a long response delay! Here’s what we have been advised: For elite performers, like Jessica Ennis-Hill or Laura Trott, we know their backgrounds and why they will of been nominated so don’t need extra info from the public. For the Community, Lifetime and Inspiration awards, The Sunday Times have contacted people for more information about their nominations. Each member of the judging panel receives a pack with relevant biographies and profiles to help with judging the awards. Hope this helps?

Ouch. As my friend Bethan mentioned, “they’re acquainting elite performance to fame, when for so many elites the reality is something very different.” Many elite female athletes aren’t well-known and not being famous doesn’t mean that you can’t be elite. I’m not trying to do down the incredible achievements of Laura Trott, she would be a very worthy winner indeed in my eyes, but this response suggests that elite sportswomen who are not well-known don’t have a chance because the judges feel that they don’t need reasons for nomination in this category. Yes, they could go off and research each nomination (and one would hope that they will) but not all women have unique names, so it could be extremely difficult to find information on the right nominees, especially without even mentioning the sport.

As Bethan also pointed out, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of how elite sport works. Minority sports struggle for coverage as it is. So do women, both in minority and mainstream sports. By blurring the line of elite and famous, you add to that problem.

I am realistic, I do not expect minority sportswomen to win this award. But they deserve the opportunity to be acknowledged and it’s sad that we, the public, don’t get a real opportunity to outline our reasons for nomination. Someone who has won a gold medal on the world stage deserves to know that her nomination is taken seriously and that minority or mainstream, famous or relatively unknown, she is respected as elite.

It’s also disappointing that they waited until the nominations had closed before I got a response.

For now, I’ll sit tight and wait for someone to ring me about who I nominated for Lifetime Achievement. Watch this space.

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