It’s a rare thing to see Ronnie O’Sullivan’s genuinely humbled. When talking about snooker, beneath his comments there is always a sense that he knows he is the greatest player to have played the game, but upon being named as one the six nominees to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, there was a clear note of respectful gratitude in his remarks.
“It was exciting to get the nomination,” he said during his punditry work with Eurosport. “I grew up watching it on the TV so it’s a great honour to be part of the final six this year. “Anything like this is great for snooker so I’m happy to be in a position to be nominated and if it helps snooker and grows the popularity and elevates it then I’m very happy and honoured.”
Of course, in the pantheon of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s achievements, perhaps it’s not right up there at the top. He has never been one to seek personal accolades outside of snooker, and indeed the now 45-year-old has often cut a controversial figure throughout his career – far from the solemn dignity of Steve Davis, who is the last snooker player to have won the SPOTY award, back in 1988.
O’Sullivan is currently the second favourite behind Lewis Hamilton in the Sports Personality of the Year odds to win the award, and whether he does or not, those who follow snooker will truly appreciate the gravity of his achievement in winning the 2020 World Snooker Championship – his sixth world crown, putting him level with Davis and just one behind Stephen Hendry’s record of 7.
Over the course of 17 days in Sheffield, O’Sullivan proved that he still has the game to compete in the long-form marathon matches which define the World Championship. There was a moment where it looked as though his race was run. He trailed Mark Selby 16-14 in the semi-final and was looking down and out, before he rallied to produce three sensational frames to snatch a 17-16 victory. His 18-8 destruction of Kyren Wilson in the final was affirmation of the domineering qualities we all know he possesses, and a sixth world title was secured.
Few sports could see a player be successful for as long as Ronnie O’Sullivan’s has, and that’s what makes snooker so uniquely fascinating. Indeed, the fact that the ‘Rocket’ is in the running for SPOTY proves that the game is perhaps on the up once again, having enjoyed its heyday in the 1980s as far as general interest goes.
O’Sullivan’s list of achievements is long and impressive, with titles galore and all kinds of records and statistics. However, a personal award such as SPOTY clearly represents something different for O’Sullivan. Aside from all the tournament victories and century breaks, this nomination is one that acknowledges his qualities as a person, not just a player.
Throughout his career, and from a very young age, there has always been a sense that he is misunderstood – that his enigma overpowers his talents and creates an inscrutable blur, one that is difficult to quantify. This nomination for SPOTY is a recognition of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s evolution from a troubled teen to a mature, laid-back player with plenty still to give to the sport. Perhaps that is the reason he welcomed the news of his nomination with such grace and humility.