Andy Murray should return his BBC Sports Personality of the Year award

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Andy Murray has done the right thing by admitting regret over the manner of his tweet supporting Scottish independence, but it should be questioned why he is allowed to enjoy privileges on both sides of the argument.

The 2013 Wimbledon champion was awarded the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in December of the same year. That was a fitting culmination of the British public endearing him to their hearts, as he became the first British man to win the men’s singles title since Fred Perry in 1936, beating Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in three sets on that memorable day of Sunday July 7 2013.

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It was a day where the nation celebrated, and it seemed that only the most petulant of British tennis fans failed to pledge support for the two-time Grand Slam winner, but now that he has made his allegiances clear, there is no reason why he should not return the prestigious award that was presented to him.

Why should he return the award?

To make things clear, it is perfectly reasonable for Murray to hold an opinion on the subject, and he should not be slammed for supporting Scottish independence. It is the country he was born and raised in until he was 15, after all, so he has a right to care about the future of that country. But the Sports Personality award is savoured for British athletes, and if he is not willing to hold a British passport, then why should he hold on to a British award?

Murray did not make his stance publically clear on the matter until the night before the day of the vote last Thursday, when he tweeted: "Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this!"

Those comments have provoked a strong reaction, and Murray tried his best to take the fuel out of the fire when he defended his comments in an interview with the BBC on Monday.

"The way I did it, yeah, it wasn't something I would do again. It was a very emotional day for Scottish people and the whole country and the whole of the UK - it was a big day.
"The way it was worded, the way I sent it, is not really in my character. I don't normally do stuff like that. So, yeah, I was a bit disappointed by that. It's time to move on."

Some of the abuse directed at him following his tweet was abhorrent, shocking and sickening, with one even referring to the Dunblane school massacre in 1996, where he was present at the age of eight, at the scene of the deaths of 16 children and a teacher. To even reference this is another sign of how Twitter needs stronger regulation, particularly in protection of those in the public eye who are frequently targeted for abuse.

Reputation damage

But to those who gave a more civilised response, it can be understood why some would feel let down by Murray after pledging their support to him over many years, including his first four, unsuccessful Grand Slam finals. They took pride in what he was achieving for his country, and they may interpret his view as being ungrateful for the level of support they have given him.

The rules for the Sports Personality award are that the winner must be British, so unlikely as it now is, Murray could be voted the winner as many times as possible. But if you are being rewarded for excellence by a community that you are not publicly submitting yourself to, then it rather defeats the object of the award in the first place.

This is a far cry from the last supposedly “anti-English” comment made by Murray in 2006, when he jokingly stated that he would be supporting any team bar England at the football World Cup in Germany that year, after being teased by fellow Briton Tim Henman over Scotland’s failure to qualify for the tournament. But his revelation last Wednesday carries more insight into his identity, and where he situates himself. It would be like giving an employee of the month award to a person who has clearly stated that they would like to hand in their resignation. The sad thing is, Murray seems to have learned very little from the experience of losing a section of British support with a much less serious comment.

The only other contentious winner of the award in its entire 60 year history is the 1985 winner Barry McGuigan, former WBA featherweight boxing champion, who changed his citizenship from Irish to British earlier in his career so that he could fight for British titles. McGuigan was supported by fans from both nations, despite only changing his nationality for professional reasons.

The difference in these two cases is that McGuigan did not comment after winning the award that he would rather not associate himself with those that had voted for him, and therefore it was perfectly feasible for him to hold on to the award.

Whether Scotland would have benefitted from a yes vote, which was narrowly beaten by the 55% of no voters, is a different issue to Murray’s own interest in the topic. The political and economical arguments for and against are different to the argument over whether British supporters should get behind a player who does not want to be associated with their country, and that is what his tweet represented, regardless of whether it was just a reaction to the negativity of no campaigners or not.

Is it a metaphorical two fingered gesture to the support of those waving Union Jacks when he appears at the All England Club year after year? That would be a strong way of wording it, but that is how it could be interpreted by some.

What does this mean?

A different matter is another title Murray has gained in recent years, and that is the position of a British gold medal winner at the London 2012 Olympics. This is a far more patchy area, because it would be unreasonable for Murray to give up a medal he won while representing a country he had no choice but to represent. He could not just decide not to enter on the grounds that he had no desire to represent any country, and it is a title that can be more easily separated between Murray and the British public.

It could also depend on how deep rooted any anti-British feelings Murray has been harbouring, and for how long. Perhaps he felt as British as any other UK resident, up until having his opinion swayed at the last minute, or maybe he held no care whatsoever for ending the curse of Perry in winning his first Grand Slam at the US Open in 2012?

The next issue on the agenda is Murray’s future in the British Davis Cup team. Some have questioned the passion of the England football team in the past, as players have faced the accusation of prioritising club football when pulling out of matches with minimal injury problems.

But very few have questioned their desire to keep their nationality, and it would only be natural to ask if Murray really would want Great Britain to succeed in the competition, or if he would be able to enjoy that success should they win the competition for the first time since, you guessed it, 1936.

The future

What would the reaction be to him playing in any home tie outside of Scotland? What will the reaction be like when he plays at Wimbledon? As much as he was within his rights to express his opinion, Murray should also be prepared to face the consequences for the bridges he has burned with a section of British supporters, and that includes the Welsh and the Northern Irish as well as the English.

It is hard to see Murray playing in the Davis Cup again, unless there are any plans for a new proposal for Scottish independence in the near future. His position within the team is likely to become untenable.

That is not to say that fans should only support players who want to be considered the same nationality as them. You would only have to talk to the many Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal fans around the world to gage an understanding of that. But they are not going to be voted the Sports Personality of the Year over more patriotic athletes.

Being the current Sports Personality award winner is a role that Murray has jeopardised, though the decision should not be made by the BBC to take the award off him, because he has not broken any laws. It should be a decent, respectful decision by Murray alone to completely sever his ties with Great Britain.

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