In Depth

Why Mo Farah might not win SPOTY – and why he shouldn't care

Olympic hero rules himself out of the running for BBC award after a year of unprecedented sporting success

After Team GB's stunning success at the Rio 2016 Olympics, the field for Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) is suddenly looking very crowded.

The exploits of Olympians such as Mo Farah, Laura Trott and Jason Kenny make picking a winner for the annual gong a difficult pastime.

However, Farah's case has become a cause celebre after the athlete, who won the 5,000m and 10,000m for a second time at Rio, said he did not even expect to come close to winning the title despite being second favourite behind Andy Murray.

"I've never been in the top three of Sports Personality and I won't be in the top three again. You have just got to accept what it is," he told The Sun, appearing to have overlooked his third-place finish in 2011.

"What drives me is winning medals and just going out there and enjoy it," he added. "The public do get behind me and whenever I compete in Britain, they give me massive support."

After those comments, his chances have become the focus of much debate.

"Will Farah's pessimistic predictions be proved right in December?" asks Simon Briggs in the Daily Telegraph. "His two golds in Rio were both ineffable moments, to be filed among the most spine-tingling that these Games had to offer. But the currency is in a phase of hyper-inflation." 

It's almost too much, agrees Tom Fordyce of the  BBC. "Such is the unprecedented nature of so much of it, the merely dramatic barely gets a look-in. Adam Peaty became the first British male to win a swimming gold in 28 years, but when Max Whitlock and the pairing of Jack Laugher and Chris Mears are breaking hoodoos that have stretched back 130 years, the comparison is rendered unfair."

Peaty's case sums it up. Before the Games, he was around 33-1 to win the award, but in the aftermath of his gold medal, the odds had been slashed to 8-1, Metro reported. Two weeks later and he is a 66-1 shot with Ladbrokes - double the odds from before he became an Olympic champion.

However, as a swimmer, Peaty was hardly a household name. That is not the same for Farah and there is an obvious, troubling, undercurrent to the debate over his chances.

"In the under-recognition stakes, Farah feels like Great Britain's answer to Serena Williams – who has consistently earned around half as much money in endorsements as the blonde and winsome Maria Sharapova, despite leading their head-to-head series by 19 wins to two. In both cases, there may be an element of prejudice at work," says Briggs of the Telegraph.

"This is not simply about skin colour, for non-white athletes (Linford Christie, Kelly Holmes, Lewis Hamilton) have won Sports Personality before. It is about familiarity and identification."

Farah, a devout Muslim and a private family man, was born in Mogadishu, in Somalia, and came to the UK aged eight. He "is cut from different cloth to Britain's traditional athletic power-base of sprinters from inner-city communities", says Briggs, and his long-distance events do not quite chime with the UK's proud middle-distance running heritage.

Also hanging over his career is the shadow of his coach, Alberto Salazar, who is the subject of an investigation by US Anti-Doping Agency, although there is no suggestion Farah has ever been involved in doping.

But there is hope for Farah, says Briggs. Previous SPOTY winners Lewis Hamilton, David Beckham, Joe Calzaghe and current holder Andy Murray were all divisive figures among sports fans before they won over the nation.

And if the runner is overlooked once again, he should not be concerned, says Dan Jones in the London Evening Standard. The SPOTY title is just one of the honours that will be tossed, confetti-like, at the heroes of Team GB this year.

But they are just "perks", says Jones. "For whatever garlands are hung around their necks, or pinned to their breasts, or imprinted after their names, nothing will — or should — ever mean more than the thing they have already achieved."

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