These three individuals are not going to win the BBC award on Sunday, but their success - and characteristics - still deserve acknowledgement...
This Sunday’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards will provoke an online response ranging somewhere between incredulous and hysterical.
It is inevitable.
Despite being voted for by the public, the ambiguous title galvanises pedants to criticise, especially if the winner is not from their favourite sport.
Comparing the achievements of athletes from different sports is subjective, but the origin of the honour is to celebrate sporting excellence, as opposed to entertainment or, pertinently in this year’s nominations, morality.
Our criteria, though, is nestled between the two.
These three individuals are not going to triumph at this weekend’s ceremony in Belfast, but their achievements – and characteristics – still deserve acknowledgement…
Joe RootExplaining the stage of a teenager’s adolescence by whether they have “pubes” or not is a remark more likely to be heard on a secondary-school playground than in an interview with former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan for the Telegraph.
That innocence away from the crease, though, is what makes Joe Root so endearing – especially when juxtaposed with his elegance, maturity and resolve at it.
Root was a gifted cricketer long before his England Test debut in 2012, but this year has been the greatest of his career so far.
The 24-year-old made decisive contributions throughout, including becoming the youngest English player to score a century at a World Cup in March and making his first overseas Test century – an unbeaten 182 against the West Indies – in April.
But it was this summer’s Ashes where the newly-appointed vice-captain became indispensable, being named as Man of the Series after contributing 460 runs – including two centuries – in England’s 3-1 triumph.
Root made his first ton (134) in the first Test at Cardiff and his second (130) in the series-deciding fourth at Trent Bridge, helping England to regain the urn and becoming the youngest ever Englishman to score three Ashes centuries in the process.
That knock of 130 also propelled the Yorkshireman to the top of the ICC Test batting rankings, a position he returned to for a second time in October after hitting 88 and 71 in the second Test against Pakistan in the UAE.
Root was dissatisfied, though, telling Vaughan in the aforementioned interview: “A lot of people say I’m one of the top-three players in the world, but quite frankly top-three players don’t get out between 70 and 80 eight or nine times in a year as I have.”
That commitment to improve is why Root will be England’s next Test captain, while his deference is also charming.
In a BBC Breakfast interview to promote his Christmas stocking-filler Bringing Home the Ashes, Root wryly discussed the amusing ECB YouTube video where, during training, he creeps behind Stuart Broad and yanks down his team-mate’s tracksuit bottoms.
What follows – Root bounding away gleefully as Broad chases after him – plays out like a live-action Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner cartoon.
It is good, clean fun from a batsman who, despite being curiously overlooked on the BBC’s 12-person shortlist, is closer to becoming one of England’s greatest batsmen.
Stuart Bingham“If you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted… would you capture it, or just let it slip?”
The opening lines to Eminem’s Lose Yourself – Bingham’s walk-on music, incidentally – perfectly encapsulate the achievement of snooker’s world champion, who in May reached the pinnacle of his sport for the first time after 20 years as a professional.
A 50/1 pre-tournament outsider, Bingham had never been beyond the quarter-final before his 13-9 win over favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan – the most gifted player in the history of the sport at the Crucible – to reach the last four.
The Basildon-born Bingham then outlasted Judd Trump in one of the most thrilling World Championship semis, retaining his composure after the latter made two successive century breaks to take the match to a final-frame decider to win 17-16.
There would have been no shame had Bingham – whose aim was to experience the unique one-table set-up at the iconic Sheffield venue – suffered a gallant defeat to Shaun Murphy in the final.
Murphy, after all, had won the World Championship 10 years earlier and was also the newest addition to snooker’s exclusive Triple Crown club after victory at the Masters months earlier.
But in a sport that relies on mental resilience as much as hand-eye co-ordination, Bingham performed courageously, recovering from 3-0 and 8-4 down to triumph 18-15 in a contest that produced six century breaks and, according to Murphy, was the greatest in the tournament’s history.
At 38, Bingham became the oldest first-time world champion since Walter Donaldson in 1947 and the oldest Crucible winner since Ray Reardon in 1978.
More importantly, though, he achieved what he had wanted to do ever since his parents bought him a replica-sized table more than 25 years earlier.
Bingham will probably never win another World Championship – Stephen Hendry was 30 when he won the last of his seven titles, after all – which renders this year’s victory even more impressive.
It was his one shot – and he captured it.
Tyson FuryThe self-dubbed ‘Gypsy King’ might be shortlisted for the BBC award, but he is not going to win.
Presumably, the 139,000 people and counting who have signed the online petition demanding the boxer’s removal from the shortlist following his homophobic remarks will take the more decisive action of voting for one of the other 11 nominees.
Fury’s comments – made in an interview with the Mail on Sunday – are indefensible, but there is a hypocrisy in how they have been reported and an absence of nuance in how they have been interpreted.
It is easy for a right-thinking or well-intentioned person to observe and judge the behaviour of an individual through the lens of a television camera or a global media outlet.
But that is not a natural environment for a conversation, while Fury’s outlook is unique to his beliefs.
His comments are influenced by his traveller upbringing and religion – he is a born-again Christian who wanted to name his son Jesus – while his lack of formal education and media training explains why such a conversation occurred in a feature only taking place to promote his fight against Wladimir Klitschko.
Fury’s previous interviews – he has spoken about his self-loathing, weight-related esteem issues and feeling “commit-suicide-sad” – are not just an insight into his state of mind, but also a welcome alternative to the manicured and rehearsed soundbites offered by many other renowned sportspeople.
And while that does not make his views on homosexuality tolerable, it is the opinion of this writer that athletes should not automatically be considered role models – particularly boxers, whose sport is intrinsically linked to those who are underprivileged and/or on the fringes of society.
It is their ability as fighters – not public speakers or social commentators – that makes them relevant to the world’s media.
This is where Fury has excelled.
Few in Britain expected the 27-year-old to beat Klitschko – not many wanted him to, either – yet he overcame the partisan, 50,000-plus German crowd and fought with intelligence and composure to achieve a unanimous points victory against the Ukrainian, who had not lost in 11 years.
It was one of the most impressive results in British boxing history, while his feinting, taunting and occasional switches to southpaw provided an excitement rarely seen in modern heavyweight title contests.
Fury’s customary post-fight karaoke, meanwhile – a sincere rendition of Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing – showcased the humorous and spirited side of a complex man who has been too readily been branded a bigot.