If you asked them, most rugby league fans would tell you that their sport receives relatively short shrift from the British media. This feeling of marginalisation by the British press isn’t anything new, and a read of Ray Gent’s 2002 book ‘The Petition’ highlights some of the issues this great game has had to deal with regarding its coverage on TV and in the newspapers in the UK.
The BBC has added to supporters of league’s disgruntlement more recently with the announcement of their Sports Personality of the Year award shortlist, or, rather with a glaring omission from it. Sam Burgess, who won the NRL Grand Final earlier this year with South Sydney Rabbitohs, is not among the ten sport stars shortlisted for this years award. This has particularly irked one of the games supporters.
Greg Mullholland, MP for Leeds North West, is also chairman of the UK Parliamentary Rugby League Group, tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling for a boycott of Sunday’s ceremony which is to be held in Glasgow. Mullholland said:
“It comes as no surprise the BBC has failed to recognise one of the world’s best rugby league players in Sam Burgess. Sam is a genuine star and one of the greatest rugby league players.”
Since winning the NRL Grand Final back in October – a game in which Burgess played with a fractured cheekbone and eye socket – the 25 year-old has changed codes to play for Bath rugby union club. However, the injury that he sustained in the Grand Final delayed his switch to the 15-man code, meaning that he is eligible for rugby league’s Golden Boot award. MP Mullholland said that he has addressed Tony Hall about Burgess’ omission from the shortlist:
“I have written to the Director General of the BBC and I call on all rugby league fans to do the same. I also encourage all to boycott the Sports Personality of the Year vote unless Sam is rightly included.”
Burgess isn’t the only rugby league personality that people within the game have been pushing to receive recognition at the awards. Wigan’s rugby manager and former centre Kris Radlinski suggested in an interview this week that the late Steve Prescott MBE would be an ideal candidate for the Helen Rollason award. Prescott, who was diagnosed with Pseudomyxoma peritonei – a rare form of stomach cancer – in 2007, and given just months to live, raised tens of thousands of pounds for cancer charities up until his death last year.
Whether or not Prescott receives any recognition at the award ceremony from the BBC remains to be seen, but at the time of writing the shortlist for the Sports Personality of the Year award itself has not been altered and Sam Burgess is still being overlooked and rugby league seemingly ignored by the mainstream media of the United Kingdom. Having said that, I do seem to recall a certain rugby league match this year that did make the headlines, but sadly for all the wrong reasons.
Back in October, a week after Burgess had helped the Rabbitohs to glory down under, Wigan and St Helens locked horns in the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford. The headlines from that game were all about ‘that punch’ by Wigan’s Ben Flower on Lance Hohaia of Saints. The pictures and videos of that incident went viral, and much of the post match reaction and reports from most of the national papers went to town on the incident, if only these same media outlets had given as many column inches and as much air time to Burgess’ achievements this year.
It is not to say that Burgess should replace any of the other ten shortlisted candidates for the prestigious gong this Sunday, but surely his accomplishments ought to be recognised and he be added to it; and the sport itself allowed the opportunity to showcase it’s many talents and inspirational characters in the national media, just like every other sport.