The “Rocket” is shortlisted for the prestigious award for the first time in his illustrious career.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is among six SPOTY hopefuls who will be vying for the popular vote in the 2020 BBC Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday evening.
The annual sporting review, which first awarded its top prize way back in 1954, takes place at the Dock10 studios in Salford.
For this year’s award, O’Sullivan is up against Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton, boxer Tyson Fury, Liverpool F.C. captain Jordan Henderson, English cricketer Stuart Broad, and jockey Hollie Doyle.
In an Olympic year the nominations are usually dominated by athletes, but with the postponement of the Tokyo Summer Games in addition to Euro 2020 as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there was an opportunity for others to seize the limelight.
O’Sullivan, thus, got the nod from the panel of experts who devised the shortlist, predominantly in recognition for his achievement of landing a sixth World Championship crown at the Crucible Theatre in August.
Most snooker fans will recognise the irony that O’Sullivan almost certainly deserved to be on the shortlist more for his feats in previous years, with his form now generally not at the heights it once was.
Indeed, this year it would be outlandish to suggest that the 45 year-old has even been the best snooker player on the planet, with world number one Judd Trump’s impressive haul of five ranking trophies eclipsing O’Sullivan’s one.
Trump, in fact, could obtain a sixth piece of silverware on the very same night as SPOTY after thrashing O’Sullivan 6-1 in the semi-finals of the World Grand Prix yesterday.
But in terms of a personality, whether O’Sullivan’s is liked or loathed, there has rarely if ever been a bigger one in the sport.
O’Sullivan can rouse controversy, but the entertainment he conjures, through his natural ability to orchestrate his enigmatic genius on a snooker table, has kept the sport in the public eye when, at times in the past, it has been ailing and on the cusp of being forgotten.
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 set since he turned professional in 1992.
Around that time, snooker was regularly a prominent feature on SPOTY, with players frequently among the shortlist on the December show – particularly throughout the 1980s.
Indeed, in 1988 Steve Davis came in first place, which marked the one and so far only time a snooker star has been able to raise the showpiece trophy aloft.
In those days snooker was fashionable; nowadays, the sport doesn’t line up too well with the haughty disposition of what has become a rather contrived annual bash.
However, even though people of a certain age will probably share the opinion that SPOTY ‘used to be better in my day’, there’s no questioning the fact that it still represents a terrific opportunity for a sport to showcase its stars – especially a so-called fringe sport like snooker.
Trump leads a number of high-profile players who have already given their full support towards O’Sullivan’s tilt at a rare sporting glory.
The 31 year-old recently told the WST: “Ronnie’s nomination should be celebrated by everyone in the sport.”
“It’s a reflection of the hard work put into all the events this year. The World Championship is one the best events in any sport.”
“Credit to everyone for putting it into the limelight and to Ronnie for winning it to get that recognition – it would be amazing for snooker if he won the award on Sunday.
“Everyone growing up in my age range – he was their favourite player because of the way he plays and how easy he makes the game look.”
O’Sullivan can surely rely on his legion of loyal supporters during the phone-in and online vote, but even those snooker fans who don’t usually back him should perhaps consider a temporary change of heart.
At a time when snooker clubs are facing closure, there’s a unique shot here for a much-needed boost to the industry that can be shared by all lovers of the game.
While SPOTY might not be the special Sunday-evening treat in the build-up to the Christmas holidays that it once was, a vote for Ronnie O’Sullivan, and snooker itself, could be the foundation for an unexpected gift that may have a ripple effect for future success within the sport.
“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.”