A campaign to see triple world superbike champion Jonathan Rea’s achievements recognised by the BBC saw a petition signed by 10,000 fans delivered to the broadcaster’s Manchester base last week.
The campaign was set up in an attempt to get the Ulsterman shortlisted in the BBC’s flagship ‘Sports Personality of the Year’ programme, which takes place in December. Motorcycle racing has historically been poorly represented on the show, even when the national broadcaster held the rights to MotoGP and world superbike racing. The only time a motorcyclist has won the prize was in 1959, when John Surtees won the award. Surtees was that year’s 350cc and 500cc champion (as he was the year before and the year after), winning all of his races, as he had done in 1958. Barry Sheene was third in 1977, the year of his second 500cc world title, but despite big audiences and the success of riders like Carl Fogarty, James Toseland, Cal Crutchlow and Rea himself, bike racing has barely gained more than a fleeting mention on the live show.
A printout of the e-petition was delivered by a group of motorcyclists, arriving by bike and in full riding gear, and handed over by Robin Frith of Carole Nash, the bike insurance company that sponsors Rea and which was the driving force behind the petition. Speaking of the campaign, the company’s Head of Marketing, Rebecca Donohue, said: “We couldn’t be happier with the way supporters have got behind our e-petition. Jonathan is one of the finest sportspeople around and an overall down-to-earth bloke, so it’s only right that his achievements get the recognition they deserve. We’re excited to see what happens when the shortlist announcement is made at the end of the month and we hope that our hard work comes to fruition, and the Great British public get the result they’re after.” Rea, who was presented with an MBE for services to motorcycle racing earlier this week, was typically modest, adding: “I don’t know if I am worthy or not of an award as big as BBC Sports Personality, but for others to be talking about me in this way is hugely flattering.
“I grew up watching the awards and to potentially follow in the footsteps of some of my all-time heroes like Tony McCoy and Barry McGuigan, who have both won the award, would be a dream come true. I’d like to thank Carole Nash for wanting to mark my achievement in this way. I have had a relationship with them for a number of years now and I have always been grateful for their support.”
The shortlist for the Sports Personality of the Year is drawn up by the BBC’s panel of experts, who then decide the winner by a phone vote on the night. Injury to Andy Murray, a winner three times in the last four years, and the lack of a major athletics event this year means that places for nominations look more open than usual although Rea – if even shortlisted – will likely find himself up against undefeated boxing champ Anthony Joshua, who is the bookies choice, multiple Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, who won the BBC award in 2014, and four-times Tour de France winner Chris Froome, whose sport of cycling always features strongly in the public vote.
The event takes place on December 17 at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.