The Englishman was nominated for the prestigious annual BBC award on Tuesday.
Confirmation of what was a long overdue SPOTY nomination for Ronnie O’Sullivan was met with general appreciation from the snooker community yesterday.
The BBC Sports Personality of the Year has for the best part of two decades snubbed the sport, in recent years often granting it mere seconds on its annual highlights reel.
With a snobbish attitude and a panel of “experts” choosing the nominees each year since 2012, it appeared probable that there would never be a snooker player featuring again.
However, advantage has been taken of what has been an unusual sporting calendar in which both the 2020 Olympics and Euro 2020 were postponed as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, the World Snooker Championship was somewhat cleverly rescheduled after its enforced delay for the exact dates that the Tokyo Olympics had previously occupied.
And it’s O’Sullivan’s magnificent sixth world title in that August tournament in Sheffield that has propelled him to a maiden SPOTY nomination.
That this is the soon-to-be 45 year-old’s first time appearing on the shortlist is a dumbfounding reality considering the sheer magnitude of pure entertainment he has provided not only the snooker public, but sport in general, over the course of a glittering career overflowing with accolades.
A record number of Triple Crown and ranking event titles, a record number of maximum 147 breaks, and a record number of centuries have all been achieved since he turned professional in 1992.
The “Rocket” undoubtedly divides opinion in that many either love him for his enigmatic talent, or loathe him for his frequently outlandish comments, but either way there is certainty in the fact that he is one of the biggest sporting personalities the UK has ever produced.
The irony is that 2020 hasn’t been an especially standout spell for O’Sullivan overall and there were countless other years in which it probably made more sense for him to get nominated – notably in 2013 when he triumphed at the Crucible Theatre for a fifth time having been on hiatus for practically the entire campaign prior to that year’s World Championship.
Yet back then snooker was treated as an after-thought, a perplexing sentiment considering the BBC continued, and continues, to be an integral supporter of the sport with its trio of big events.
Around thirty years ago it was very different, with snooker players regularly among the shortlist on the December show and there was even a triumph for Steve Davis at the 1988 edition.
In those days snooker was fashionable; nowadays, the sport doesn’t line up well with the haughty disposition of what has become a rather contrived annual bash.
Still, any publicity is good publicity, as is known to be said, and for snooker it’s surely a decent opportunity to gain some additional exposure in front of a wider audience.
So after finally earning his SPOTY spot, could Ronnie O’Sullivan actually go on and claim the prize now his fate will come down to the public vote?
The world number three is up against Lewis Hamilton, Jordan Henderson, Tyson Fury, Hollie Doyle, and Stuart Broad.
Hamilton, who recently captured a record-equalling seventh world crown in Formula One, is the current favourite with most bookmakers.
Yet, it’s perhaps fair to suggest that both O’Sullivan and Fury, who are neck and neck in the odds behind Hamilton, possess a more passionate following and could potentially drum up the support required to top the popularity contest.
It will clearly be down to an ability to conjure up as much support and as many votes as possible on the night itself.
Mark Selby on Ronnie O’Sullivan’s Sports Personality inclusion: ‘It’s long overdue. He should have been on it many years ago, what he’s achieved. It’s fantastic for him and snooker. I think Lewis Hamilton will probably win but there’s no reason why he can’t come second or third.’
— Nick Metcalfe (@Nick_Metcalfe) December 1, 2020
To that end, even some of O’Sullivan’s closest rivals have already got behind the star as a unique opportunity for snooker to claim the limelight has arisen.
Judd Trump, who could justifiably have been nominated for his own achievements on the baize – especially last year – was one notable figure drumming up support already.
The world number one said on Twitter that he was “very happy to see SPOTY recognise Ronnie O’Sullivan for his great achievements to snooker.”
“Long time coming. It’s fantastic for players and fans to see the sport receiving the attention it deserves.”
While SPOTY might not be the special Sunday-evening treat in the build-up to the Christmas holidays that it once was, O’Sullivan and snooker are at least in line for a surprise gift that could act as a timely boost for the game during these trying times.
“It’s a great honour,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport after the news of his nomination was confirmed. “I grew up watching that show on the TV. If this elevates snooker, then that’s fantastic.”
BBC Sports Personality of the Year takes place on December 20th.
Featured photo credit: WST