The alternative 2023 sports awards: quotes, gaffes and animal cameos | Sport
Coach of the year
Ronan O’Gara, former Ireland international, telling his players at La Rochelle how “L’opportunité est fucking énorme” before a game against Bordeaux in August. O’Gara asked if they were they hungry for victory, or were they planning on taking a “fucking … vacance”? They won it 24-13.
Player of the year
Quote of the year
PGA Tour head Jay Monahan, doing a merger deal with Saudi’s LIV Golf a year after he invoked 9/11 as a reason for ruling one out. Asked about criticism from a 9/11 victims’ representative, he told the Golf Channel: “Well, I, um … I read the comments. Ahhh, I, uh, I, you know – obviously I acknowledge her loss.”
Dream of the year
Jon Rahm, who ruled out a move to LIV in 2022 (“I’ve never played for monetary reasons”), on what changed his mind in 2023 when they offered £240m: “I just believe in the growth of the game of golf. I’ve spoken about how Seve improved the game of golf in Spain, and I’ve always said how I’d like to do the same thing over there.”
Most surreal moment
From 2023’s war-on-woke: Samir Shah – the government’s “anti-woke” choice as new BBC chair – promising Tory MPs at a pre-appointment hearing in December he would stop @garylineker teasing them. Shah said Lineker’s replies to MPs tweets, including one implying Jonathan Gulis needs help reading, were a threat to BBC balance.
Adding colour to the original story in March when Lineker was taken off air to “protect impartiality” by the then BBC chair and Tory donor Richard Sharp and director general Tim Davie, a former Tory official:
Tory MP @NadineDorries, asking Lineker to just stick to one job: “Is he a footie presenter or a candidate for the Labour Party? We discuss on my show tonight on @TalkTV 8pm.”
@Nigel_Farage: “Gary Lineker has been spreading hate and should apologise.”
And Tory councillor Alexis McEvoy, feeling uneasy after Ian Wright led the woke staff walkout at Match of the Day in solidarity with Lineker because, she tweeted, Wright was behaving like a “typical black hypocrite”. She said later the tweet had been “taken out of context”.
Was Rishi Sunak – making time to watch England’s Women’s World Cup final in a constituency pub after workload pressures stopped him flying to Sydney. Sunak, who arrived back from his US holiday six days earlier, told reporters later: “I enjoyed watching it in the pub … I love football. I love sport. I love cheering on England.”
Also unable to be there due to diary pressures: FA president Prince William, and King Charles, who told the team pre-match: “Good luck today, Lionesses, and may you roar to victory”, then went to church instead of watching it.
Most uncomfortable 28 seconds of the year
Advice of the year
Came in August – Fifa’s president Gianni Infantino telling women to just try harder on equality: “Pick the right battles. Pick the right fights. You have the power. Convince us men what we have to do and what we don’t have to do. You do it. Just do it.” Infantino, who hired a Victoria’s Secret supermodel as fan ambassador in March, urged women: “With men, with Fifa, you will find open doors. Just push the doors. They are open.” Norway striker Ada Hegerberg @AdaStolsmo: “Working on a little presentation to convince men. Who’s in?”
Fifa icon of the year
Mamatou Touré, Fifa council member – winning re-election as Mali’s FA president from inside his prison cell. Touré, on remand charged with embezzling £22.4m, won a new four-year term from his cell by 61 votes to one after the other candidates all “failed FA eligibility tests”. He denies wrongdoing.
Reacting to the result, Infantino wrote to Touré in prison to express “warmest greetings” and thanks for “all your efforts, your work and your important contribution to promoting football’s values in Mali, Africa – and in the world”.
And the best campaigner for press standards
Was also Infantino, attacking negative coverage in a year he took a 20% pay rise to £3.2m plus benefits and visited Cop28 as a stop-over on a winter private-jet tour. “There are few things I really don’t understand,” he told reporters. “For example, why are some of you so mean? I don’t get it. We don’t steal, we don’t profit, we all work hard. Whenever some of you write about Fifa, you say it’s only about money, that Fifa is rich and just a money-making exercise … Journalists have a duty to be impartial and correct.”
Most brass balls
Former cyclist turned podcaster @LanceArmstrong – using social media in July to question “the fairness of Trans athletes in sport”. Asked by critics if he was sure he was best placed to judge on athletes taking an unfair advantage, he told them: “Climb down from your high horse.”
Straightest bat on Saudi issues: Eddie Howe – still not falling for press questions on Newcastle’s owners in a year they sentenced a retired teacher to death for criticising Saudi policy on social media: “It’s not my area, I don’t want it to be my area.” Howe did comment though on September’s felling of the Sycamore Gap tree. “I’m really saddened by it. I don’t quite know how to describe it … when I heard the news I was just so disappointed that an act can ruin something that’s there for the pleasure of everybody, it’s such a beautiful thing. Very sad.”
Award for going above and beyond: Jordan Henderson, upset by a backlash from LGBTQ+ groups after his Al-Ettifaq move in July. “It hurts … All I’ve ever tried to do is help. And when I’ve been asked for help, I’ve gone above and beyond to help. I’ve worn the laces. I’ve worn the armband.”
Shrug of the year: Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, telling the BBC why all the talk of his nation sportswashing its reputation for executions, oppression and torture is just “very shallow … Any country has room for improvement. No one’s perfect.”
And the best attack on ignorance: Cristiano Ronaldo, unveiled in Saudi Arabia by Al-Nassr in January under a “Saudi – welcome to Arabia” banner, attacking ignorance about, and a lack for respect for, the country. “Many people speak and give their opinion but they really know nothing about football. I took my decision. It’s not the end of my career to come to South Africa.”
War on racism: moment of the year
Leading the way on racism in 2023: last January’s independent FA panel which ruled out a long-term ban for former Crawley manager John Yems after finding “Mr Yems is not a conscious racist”. The panel accepted that the incidents – calling a player of Asian heritage a “curry muncher”, a Muslim player a “terrorist”, black players “Zulu warriors”, and being surprised by two black players playing darts because “people like them normally blow sharp objects through their mouths” – were “taken out of context”. Yems, later banned for three years, told media: “If anyone is owed an apology I think I am.”
Sinking feeling of the year
“That’s wrong that, Daz.” Assistant VAR, Spurs v Liverpool, October.
Most united response to the cost-of-living crisis
Came from Premier League clubs, assessing the pressure on fans last summer and making changes: 17 of 20 raised season ticket prices, Forest by 20%, Fulham by 18%; none cut prices, but Spurs froze them, announcing they had done so on a point of principle: “We recognise and greatly appreciate the ongoing commitment of our fans.” They put up matchday prices by 20% instead.
Award for best understanding of what fans want
Josh Wander, co-founder of the private Miami investment group 777 Partners bidding for Everton, telling the FT in August about their vision: “The vision for this football group is that one day we’re not selling hot dogs and beers to our customers; it’s that we’re selling insurance or financial services or whatever.” Wander said the intensity of fans’ engagement with their club meant “they want to be monetised”.
Fastest fingers: Rafa Benítez, taking to social media in May with a party emoji to congratulate former club Newcastle on sealing Champions League qualification. “Congratulations to all involved. Howdy the lads.”
Best clarification: Liga MX side Atlas FC, saying sorry in July for an “intemperate” tweet about a VAR call which “regrettably” referenced both Hitler and Goebbels. Atlas: “We are deeply sorry … WE REJECT and are against any value that said regime represented in one of the darkest times for humanity.”
Copy and paste of the year. When social media teams do their best, but it’s still not enough: @marcusrashford, sharing his personal pictorial tribute to the outgoing David de Gea in July, and captioning the image: “Caption ideas: You were here from my breakthrough, good luck with your next step, brother.”
Fastest deleting: Tennis coach Brad Gilbert, trying to tag @beastieboys in September after Novak Djokovic sang Fight For Your Right on court, but accidentally tagging a similarly named gay porn account instead. “Honest mistake, wrong tag.”
Most relentless: social media pranksters disrupting live events – including making fake food deliveries at Sloane Stephens v Beatriz Haddad Maia in the US Open in August and at a January college basketball game between Duquesne and Loyola Chicago; and using taped “porn noises” to interrupt the BBC’s live Wolves v Liverpool coverage in January, and December’s Euro 2024 draw. Uefa called the noises “unacceptable”.
And best non-league tweets. Adding colour to live match coverage in 2023: @NorwichUnitedFC’s admin with the year’s best use of “on top”: “Midway through the second half. Visitors on top. Planters 0-10 @ThetfordTownFC #UTP”. And King’s Lynn Town’s @officialKLtown, July:
State of the nation stat of the year
57: the number of athletes at Sunderland’s World Triathlon Championship Series who contracted diarrhoea. E Coli colonies were found to be 39 times above average on Roker Beach; Northumbrian Water ruled out any blame on their part: “Bathing waters were designated ‘Excellent’ in the latest Defra classifications.”
The White House, April, altering the transcript of remarks made by Joe Biden about a tie he was wearing during a visit to an Irish pub from: “This was given to me by one of these guys, right here. He was a hell of a rugby player. He beat the hell out of the Black and Tans”, to: “… He beat the hell out of the All Blacks.”
Biggest personal journey
Everton owner Farhad Moshiri, 12 Jan, talking himself into a fundamental shift of mindset about Frank Lampard. “We just need to be patient. We drove out Roberto Martínez, Marco Silva, Ronald Koeman. They’re all good managers. I think a manager should be given time. All the managers who were driven out were by the fans, not by me. I think you have to stay with the manager to get the systems going with the players he buys. Frank’s a hard-working, very good manager. I support him.” 23 Jan: Sacks him.
Most unexpected hold-ups
Delaying games in 2023: Dutch side Veenhuizen’s relegation clash held up when a neighbour rode his moped on to the pitch because fans’ fireworks “frightened my horse”. Veenhuizen, level at the time, lost 4-1. Spokesperson: “We know him. We think he acted out of emotion.”
Gateshead v Dunston’s pre-season friendly in July disrupted at the break when masked men drove a hearse and a Subaru into the middle and started spinning circles. Police made 11 arrests, with inquiries ongoing; @GatesheadFC played it straight: “Due to an incident on the pitch shortly after half-time, tonight’s match has been abandoned by the referee.”
But topping those for drama:
Stefano Bandecchi, Italian conservative politician and Serie B Ternana’s president, declining to apologise in February for spitting at his own club’s fans. “Make peace? Why? I’m not Jesus Christ, I’m a man, and these imbeciles bothered me.” The clash came two months after he set out his Christmas 2022 message to supporters: “You don’t deserve shit. Connect your brains, I can’t stand idiots. That’s my message. Happy holidays.”
Featured parlay of the year
Came from US betting firm DraftKings, issuing a statement after offering a 9/11-themed “Never Forget” accumulator that the New York Mets, New York Yankees and New York Jets would all win on 11 September. “We sincerely apologise for the featured parlay that was shared briefly in commemoration of 9/11. We respect the significance of this day for our country – and for the families of those affected.”
Most unforseeable downside
To hiring a Love Island contestant as a cricket presenter for the Hundred: being forced to apologise when he tells Australian all-rounder Maitlan Brown on air she’s like “a little Barbie, aren’t you, with your blue eyes”. BBC spokesperson: “We have spoken to Chris.”
Award for nearly getting away with it
Runner Joasia Zakrzewski, saying sorry in April after being disqualified from the GB Ultras Manchester to Liverpool 50-mile race when tracking data showed she did part of it in a car. Zakrzewski, who covered a mile in one minute 40 seconds, said she’d felt unwell and, on reflection, shouldn’t have accepted the third-place trophy. “I should have handed it back. And not had the pictures done.”
Best handling of rejection
Martin Brundle, staying resolute again on more tense F1 gridwalks – including getting three words out of Shaquille O’Neal, a thumbs down from Machine Gun Kelly, and walking away after Cara Delevigne refused to say anything at all. “OK, well … I’m sure it would have been extremely interesting.”
Somalia’s Nasra Ali Abukar, finishing 10 seconds behind her competitors in the 100m of the World University Games in China in August. A post-race Somalian ministry of sport investigation into who she was found that Ali was neither a “sports person nor a runner”, then suspended the head of the Somali Athletics Federation, Khadijo Aden Dahir, for “facilitating the participation of her niece”.
Chinese chess champion Yan Chenglong, 48, accused in December of defecating in a bathtub after using wireless anal beads to cheat. Reports alleged Yan sent signals to a chess computer by “clenching and unclenching”, then fouled his hotel bathtub following the success. Authorities stripped him of his title and prize money; Yan blamed diarrhoea, and denies wrongdoing.
Soundest overall philosophy
Leicester City’s Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, November: “If we continue doing what we’re doing, then something special could happen. It’s about keeping your head on the floor, staying grounded, taking it step by step and keeping your foot on the gas.”
Best attempt to stay professional
Tackle of the year
PGA Tour winner Adam Hadwin, taken out by security on the 18th when trying to celebrate Nick Taylor’s Canadian Open home victory in June with a bottle of champagne. Tournament director Bryan Crawford: “The security officer was doing their job and acting in the moment amidst a flurry of excitement and celebration. We are pleased with how both parties quickly rectified the misunderstanding.”
Best qualifying clause
March, Press Association: “Tottenham manager Antonio Conte has come out swinging and insisted he will ‘die for this club’ – but only until the end of the season. ‘Until the end I am ready to die for this club, and then we will see. I am not so stupid to continue to kill myself.’”
Best holding the line
Dublin marathon organisers, rejecting criticism in September after they engraved an incorrectly attributed WB Yeats quote on 22,500 medals to mark the 100th anniversary of the poet’s Nobel prize. Experts said there was “no evidence of any kind” that Yeats wrote the phrase “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t met yet”; organisers said it nevertheless “reflects the values of the Dublin marathon”.
Biggest fashion statements
Arsenal releasing a new premium £110 Invincibles home top listing all the results from the unbeaten 2003-04 season, apart from six of them due to “a production error”.
And outfitters for K-Pop girl group STAYC – aiming to win over locals during October’s stop in Dallas, Texas by having the band perform in Texas Rangers shirts – mistakenly having them perform in retro 1996-97 Glasgow Rangers shirts instead.
Elina Svitolina, upset to reach the Wimbledon semis due to having Harry Styles tickets the same day. Styles messaged her: “We have four shows to go, you’re welcome at any of them” – but the dates all clashed. “I’m so sad about it. But he’s young. I’m sure there will be more chances.”
Biggest attention seekers
Headlining 12 months of animal cameos:
A red-bellied black snake delaying an AFLW match between Greater Western Sydney and Richmond in September, a year after a Women’s Big Bash League match at the same venue was disrupted by a pair of spur-winged plover parents attacking players for annoying their chicks.
A 50cm eastern brown snake stopping play at the Brisbane International by sliding on to Show Court 2 during Dominic Thiem v James McCabe.
A monitor lizard paying the ultimate price in September after sauntering across the F1 track in Singapore.
A deer jumping the wicket during play at Bentley CC in May.
And a stray dog getting involved in the Alebrijes Oaxaca v Dorados Mexican second division match in September. Alebrijes, winning 4-0 when the dog “chewed up the ball”, tweeted later to confirm the stray had been taken into their care. “Our new best friend is fine and with us in #TemploAlebrije after having debuted in @LigaMXExpansion.”
Most competitive parent
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the third-fastest woman of all time, filmed in April winning her son’s sports day 100m parents race in Jamaica by a 50m margin. “I had to show up. I had to preserve my name.”
Most unkind reaction
Most competitive fanbase
Austria Salzburg’s 1,300 ultras, turning out in March with pyrotechnics to watch the club’s under-7s. Coach Sascha Gastuba: “I am often asked whether there are any ‘normal’ fans here.”
Most polished warm-up
Kevin Sinfield carrying former Leeds Rhinos teammate Rob Burrow over the finish line in May, and Àlex Roca Campillo, the first runner with 76% paralysis to finish a marathon, setting a world record time in Barcelona the same month. “People have always told me no, that I wouldn’t be able to live, to walk, that I’d have no friends or a partner, that I would not study. I’ve transformed all of it into a ‘yes’.”
And the best timing
Johnny Sexton’s son, Luca, age eight, seen on TV looking up at his father after Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand in October, Sexton’s last appearance as a professional: