The BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year shows that we still rate British performances over Welsh ones

Jonathan Davies. Picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Adam Pearce

It’s something of an accident of history that Wales, a stateless nation, has its own national sports teams.

We’re rightly proud of these teams and, for better or worse, they have provided a unifying Welsh identity for many.

This only makes the awarding of BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year for 2017 to the rugby player Jonathan Davies all the more unfortunate.

This is in no way intended to be a personal criticism of Jonathan Davies – he has been a sterling servant for the Wales rugby team for many years.

Even if he were to retire from the sport today, at the age of 29, he would probably have earned himself a lifetime achievement award.

Davies can hardly be blamed for being nominated nor for accepting the award that he has been offered – I would have done exactly the same if I were in his situation.

My issue is what his winning the award represents for the relative prestige of representing Wales, compared to representing Britain.

Contribution

It’s worth pointing out that the award is not given for a whole career but is rather for achievement in the calendar year.

With that in mind, let’s look back at Davies’ sporting achievements in 2017.

Davies was part of the Scarlets team that won the Guinness Pro12 in the 2016-17 season, and also the Welsh rugby team.

But it’s unlikely that the award was for his work with these teams. He missed much of the Scarlets’ season due to injury and international call-ups.

The player that the Scarlets chose to honour as their official player of the year was, in fact, Steff Evans.

And I don’t think it’s unfair to say that there are several other Welsh players whose performances also contributed more to the Scarlets’ success that year.

These include Davies’ own brother James, and his positional rival Hadleigh Parkes, as well as Liam Williams and Aaron Shingler.

Davies’ also had an indifferent Six Nations, only winning two of the games he was involved in.

He was not one of the two Welsh players nominated for player of the tournament (Ken Owens and Rhys Webb).

And if you look at the many player ratings doled out by the press at the time, it’s clear that Davies wasn’t considered one of Wales’ better performers.

He missed the summer tour to the Pacific Islands and played in only a single game in the autumn, a defeat to Australia, missing the rest of the year due to an injury.

Contributionism

There’s no doubt that Jonathan Davies’ best rugby in 2017 was played for the British and Irish Lions during their New Zealand tour.

He played every minute of the three test matches and was unexpectedly named the Lions’ Player of the Tour.

It’s evident therefore that Jonathan Davies was named BBC Wales Sports Personality of the year purely on the back of his performances for a British sports team.

If we had to pick an outstanding Welsh rugby player for 2017, giving equal weight to club, international and Lions performances, it would certainly not have been Jonathan Davies.

I suspect I am not the only Welsh person who feels rather ambivalent about the British and Irish Lions, as well as other contexts where athletes compete as British as opposed to Welsh.

But regardless of how you feel, the official criteria for the Sports Personality award note that the winner must “reflect Wales’s sporting achievements on the national and/or international stage”.

I’ve no issue with a performance for British teams being taken into account for this; indeed it is all but essential to fairly evaluate achievement in many sports. The opportunity to actually de jure represent Wales is not always possible.

Surely, however, in a sport like Rugby where players can and do represent Wales itself, it is nothing short of servile contributionism to entirely disregard an athlete’s performance in a Welsh shirt when evaluating them for their contribution to Welsh sport.

Doing so effectively sends the message that the Wales shirt is irrelevant: real achievement is always going to be measured in what you do in the name of Britain.

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