IT is a tradition as old as the four-minute mile, but as this year’s outing neared the finish line, the BBC admitted it had been outpaced by technology.
Its annual competition to find the Sports Personality of the Year, hijacked by popularity campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, is facing its biggest overhaul since it was spun off from the Sportsview programme.
The customary shortlist of up to 16 names will be trimmed to just six and announced on the night of the broadcast instead of three weeks in advance – leaving bookmakers in charge of the speculation.
The corporation’s head of sport, Barbara Slater, said the move would add to the drama of the night and reduce the influence of lobbying campaigns on social media.
“It used to be called the Sports Review of the Year with an award at the end of it but I think, as the number of nominees has grown, it’s been more led by individuals than the tale of the sporting year. So the aim has been to get that balance back,” she said.
Gabby Logan, who will co-host the show with and Gary Lineker and Clare Balding on December 16, said: “Last year we only had 90 seconds to review the entire rugby season. These changes will give us more space to really reflect on the whole year, as well as giving us another gasp moment at the top of the show.”
A panel of experts will select this year’s six runners and riders, with the final choice going to a 25-minute public vote on the night of the live transmission from Birmingham.
Last year, the athlete Mo Farah took the top honour, breaking the dominance of the tennis champion Andy Murray, who had won on three of the previous four occasions. The Leeds triathlete Alistair Brownlee was runner-up in 2016 and the Leeds Rhinos and Yorkshire Carnegie rugby star Kevin Sinfield the previous year.
Other Yorkshire successes include the athletes Lord Sebastian Coe and Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, who have both been handed lifetime achievement awards, and the show jumper Harvey Smith, who in 1967, narrowly lost to Henry Cooper.
The format dates from 1954, when it was overseen by Paul Fox, the editor of Sportsview who would go on to run Yorkshire Television. The trophy is still a model of a TV camera from the period. The custom of releasing the shortlist in advance also dates from 1954, when the only way of voting was on the back of a postcard.
That year, viewers selected Christopher Chataway as winner, relegating Roger Bannister – seven months after he ran the first sub four-minute mile – to runner-up.
Despite the honour, Chataway ran off to ITN, the BBC’s new rival, as its first newsreader.
The BBC’s decision to overhaul the format mimics that of its other behemoth, Grandstand, also created by Fox, which went on air 60 years ago this month.
The corporation said in 2006 that the show would be “gradually phased out” within three years. Its last edition was broadcast nine months after the announcement.
Despite the latest changes, the BBC expects audience tickets for the awards show, at £45 each, to sell out within an hour when they go on sale next Friday.