The Sunday Times Sportswoman Of The Year (SWOTY) Is A Flawed Process

It’s that time of year where nominations are open for The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year (SWOTY) awards. Some of you may remember that last year, I outlined my concerns about the process.

Just to recap, the awards are an opportunity for us to nominate our favourite sportswomen for awards. The awards don’t just celebrate athletes, but also the contribution to sport made by coaches, administrators and volunteers. Sponsored by Vitality, the awards are now in their 30th year.

However, there is an issue.

Sportswomen, junior sportswomen and teams are to be nominated by name only

Some of you may be thinking “well, what’s the problem with that?” The answer is, this is a HUGE problem and it makes the assumption that being an elite sportswoman is the same as being a famous sportswoman.

This is simply not true. It’s fair to say that a famous sportswoman will almost certainly be elite. However, it is wrong and shows a misunderstanding of sport to say that all elite sportswomen are famous. Many of them aren’t.

A world-class female athlete deserves to know that her nomination has been taken seriously, regardless of her chosen sport. A multi world champion in a minority sport is no less deserving of a nomination than a decorated Olympian. Many sports are not part of the Olympic Games, or do not get coverage. Lack of fame doesn’t make a world-class sportswoman any less elite.

I know that there is nothing to stop me from nominating an athlete in a minority sport, but without being able to indicate the sport, the accolades and contact details, that athlete is unlikely to be researched. It’s unlikely to be taken seriously. Even if she is, this isn’t without problems.

  • What if the athlete has a common name? What if there are two athletes with the same name. How do the organisers and judges know who has been nominated?
  • What if the athlete is not on the first page of Google? Or the second? Or the third? How far to they go? I’ve just researched a world-class junior athlete who doesn’t turn up until page 6, due to a well-known singer having the same name. And after her on page 6, is a girl of the same name who happens to play a different sport to a high level.
  • Who are they going to contact to confirm accolades?
  • Wouldn’t it save time to include a sport and reason for nomination box?

All of this was raised last year and it’s disappointing to see that nothing has been taken on board. The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year is not a fair contest. Instead, it smacks of publicity  to enable them to tick the women’s equality box. Instead, it should be entitled “The Sunday Times Famous Sportswoman of the Year Award.” Vitality didn’t seem too bothered either, explaining that the judges knew the background achievements of the elite women, thus confirming that they too appear to have confused being elite with being automatically famous.

There was a breath of hope when they said that for awards like lifetime achievements, they would be making follow up calls. Unfortunately, it would appear that a retiring multi World and European champion also volunteering her time for the betterment of a sport, wasn’t worth a follow up call, despite several nominations.

Meanwhile, the minority sports continue to suffer, fighting for sponsorship, funding and coverage. Because in Sunday Times world, and the world of many, a world medal seems to be only worth something if you’re famous. The Sunday Times, with this flawed process of nomination, are once again discriminating against non-famous elite sportswomen. I’m not saying Laura Trott didn’t deserve the award last year. She very much did and I’m glad she won. I’m just saying that the system is set up to favour the famous and misunderstands elite sport.

If SWOTY wants to be seen as being open to all, it needs to change the nomination process. Otherwise, it might as well go down the same route of shortlisting as SPOTY.

Don’t equate being elite with being famous. It’s simply not the case.

I have contacted both Vitality as a continuaton of the conversation from last year and also SWOTY directly. It will be interesting to see how they respond.

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