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Neil Drysdale: I’m looking forward to Beth Mead and the Lionesses swallowing up BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards

England's Beth Mead scores her side's first goal of the Euros - a winner against Austria. Image: PA
England's Beth Mead scores her side's first goal of the Euros - a winner against Austria. Image: PA

It’s one of those programmes which always divides opinion and yet the BBC Sports Personality of the Year remains essential viewing for those of us who want to see which way the wind is blowing in Britain.

The shortlist for the main prize at the annual event isn’t even being announced until Tuesday, but it will definitely include England Lioness Beth Mead, whose flurry of goals helped propel her team to European Championship glory during the summer; and England’s cricket captain, Ben Stokes – who previously secured the accolade in 2019 in Aberdeen – following his pivotal role in England’s World Cup triumph.

Who will be BBC Sports Personality of the Year?

As to the rest of the candidates, one of whom will be crowned SPotY on Wednesday at the end of the usual frenzy of platitude-strewn interviews, there are decent cases to be made for world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, a boxer who will never be short of at least one fan; Perth’s Eve Muirhead, whose rink surged to a nerve-shredding gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Beijing; Ronnie O’Sullivan, who collected his seventh world championship title at the Crucible in Sheffield; and gymnast Jessica Gadirova, who claimed floor gold on the final day of the world championships in Liverpool.

It has already been confirmed that eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt will be honoured with the Lifetime Achievement award – and will hopefully bring some swagger to the proceedings – while it’s difficult to envisage the Lionesses and Sarina Wiegman will be denied the Team and Coach of the Year accolades.

Sprinter Usain Bolt won eight Olympic gold medals.

But, when it comes to the principal category, there are a marked dearth of truly outstanding individuals in the frame – which underlines how many of the year’s biggest competitions have generated good, but not great performances in the heat of battle.

One could make a valid argument for any number of athletes who excelled at different times on the global stage.

From a Scottish perspective, there were few sights more heartwarming than Eilish McColgan and Laura Muir lighting up the track with their exploits at the Commonwealth Games, while Jake Wightman swept to an unexpected, but meritorious success in the 1,500m at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon.

Great Britain’s women’s curlers Mili Smith, Hailey Duff, Jennifer Dodds, Vicky Wright and Eve Muirhead celebrate with their gold medals after beating Japan in the Winter Olympic final in Beijing. Image: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

However, if the bookmakers are to be believed, there are only two genuine aspirants – Mead and Stokes. Which, in some respects, should make this a pretty easy race to call.

Stokes should be good for second

Big Ben has undoubtedly been instrumental in transforming his country’s approach to Test cricket, adopting the mentality that draws should be consigned to the dustbin of history with an attacking, up-and-at-’em strategy which has sparked a string of remarkable scoring achievements and a precious series win in Pakistan.

Stokes was also in the thick of the action when England marmalised their way to success in the World T20 tournament in Australia, but, if anything, they were boosted by so many disappointing displays from other fancied countries and their victory had none of the last-gasp death or glory drama which surrounded their 50-over World Cup heroics three years ago.

Yes, he’s a larger-than-life character with an irrepressible capacity for snatching matches by the scruff of the neck, but I can’t picture him in the winners’ enclosure again – or not if there is any justice when the voting commences.

Ben Stokes poses with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award in 2019.

Because, if there was one abiding image from 2022, it was the sight of Mead and her colleagues running towards the crowd with sheer joy on her face as they defeated Germany in a pulsating denouement at Wembley which not only shattered stereotypes, but demonstrated that the women’s game has been transformed in the 21st Century.

It was a record crowd for a European Championship final of 87,192, transcending the 79,115 set in the menโ€™s final in 1964 and also topping the 80,203 who watched the 2012 Olympic gold-medal match to set a record for a womenโ€™s international in England. And Mead, the Golden Boot winner and Player of the Tournament, was the catalyst.

In the intervening period, it would have been understandable if the 27-year-old Arsenal striker had kept a low profile, re-charged her batteries and focused on the next chapter of her career.

Beth Mead ‘is the present AND the future of sport’

Not a word of it. On the contrary, she has been outspoken and passionate about issues which concern her and, in the process, shown she is a real personality.

Last year, Mead signed a letter to the Prime Minister, calling for a kinder, fairer and more effective system for refugees in the UK, which said: “We want Afghans and other people across the world fleeing persecution and violence to find safety here as they have in the past, no matter how they arrive. Now is not the time to turn them away.”

And she spoke out last month, condemning the lack of human rights and persecution of homosexuality in Qatar, which meant she basically refused to back the competition.

A very different stance from that adopted by David Beckham and so many of his male counterparts who stuck to the view it wasn’t their business to talk about politics.

On and off the pitch, Mead is the present AND the future of sport – let’s hope there aren’t any last-minute changes of heart before she takes centre stage.

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