Jonathan Rea BBC SPOTY snub is ‘a bloody disgrace’ – Jeremy McWilliams

Former MotoGP rider Jeremy McWilliams lambasts decision to snub Jonathan Rea for the BBC SPOTY award after winning fifth WorldSBK title

Jonathan Rea - BBC SPOTY

Former MotoGP rider Jeremy McWilliams has lashed out at the BBC’s decision to omit Jonathan Rea from its annual Sport’s Personality of the Year shortlist, two years after he came sensationally close to a shock win.

In 2017, Rea’s efforts in clinching a third consecutive WorldSBK Championship title were recognised by his inclusion on the 16-strong shortlist, but few expected him to secure more than 80,000 votes during the live televised final to place him in second position.

Only 2,000 votes shy of winner athlete Mo Farah, Rea’s achievement was celebrated in the motorcycling world and in his native Northern Ireland, not least because it thrust him and the series into a higher profile spotlight.

However, since then BBC SPOTY has changed its rules regarding who is included in the final reckoning, with a panel of experts selecting just six finalists to be voted for on the night.

As a result though, Rea has for the second-year running been omitted from the final selection despite 2019 being his most historic as he became the first person to win five WorldSBK titles – all consecutive – and notching up new records in terms of victories (now at 88).

The snub has drawn derision from key figures in the sport, with McWilliams telling the Belfast Telegraph BBC’s decision to ignore Rea is a ‘bloody disgrace’ before calling for a boycott of the awards show.

“For a world champion and someone who has finished first five times in a row, which has never been achieved before, to be overlooked has upset the whole racing fraternity,” McWilliams – who started 118 500/MotoGP races - said.

"This is a personality award and Jonathan is certainly one of the best personalities that the UK has, never mind Northern Ireland. I really don't know how the BBC come up with these finalists, and there are a couple in there that I am struggling to understand how they would be chosen over Jonathan."

"This is a big disappointment, and while it's one of those shows that everyone sits down and watches, I'll definitely not be tuning in."

Did the BBC change rules to stop someone like Jonathan Rea winning?

Officially speaking, the BBC opted to take some of the emphasis away from the public when it came to choosing a winner to help condense the laborious running time and focus more on a smaller group of athletes.

However, many still believe the change in the rules to be an indirect response to Rea’s surprise success that left many outside of motorsport asking ‘who?’.

Those who weren’t in the know cried foul, blaming block voting in Northern Ireland and from those involved in the sport to skew the results, a slightly desperate response given the format of the show is supposed to celebrate the achievements of all sports from all British athletes.

The new approach though looks set to just reward those from high-profile sports, meaning it seems very unlikely we’ll get to see Rea or any British motorcycle racing star considered in a country that lavishes footballers, cricketers, rugby players and athletes.

Indeed, even if Rea wins an unprecedented sixth WorldSBK title, don’t expect him to feature in Olympic year…

It’s not an unfamiliar situation for BBC. In 2010, darts legend Phil Taylor finished second to Tony McCoy after a concerted tabloid campaign to get him to the top came remarkably close, raising more than a few eyebrows. Luckily for him, darts is shown on the BBC.

Whether Rea himself is particularly bothered is a question for him but if we are looking at the ethos of the award at its very heart, you’d be very pressed to find another athlete who has performed so strongly, so consistently and for so long regardless of whether they kick a ball, run fast, score a try or just happen to race motorbikes.