MOST of us will for ever look back on 2020 as a collective annus horribilis.
That is why tonight’s BBC Sports Personality Of The Year will be especially poignant. Sport has brought us a great light in the darkness.
Any of the nominees would make a worthy winner: Cricketer Stuart Broad, jockey Hollie Doyle, boxer Tyson Fury, Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton, Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson and snooker great Ronnie O’Sullivan.
But one in particular stands out to me. Despite all the challenges this year has brought, Hollie has had one of the best years of her career.
She broke her own record for the most winners ridden by a British woman in a year, including a historic double on British Champions Day, became the first woman to ride five winners on the same card and claimed her first victory at Royal Ascot.
She is closing in on 150 wins this year — and at just 24 is already one of greatest female jockeys this country has ever seen.
No wonder she is one of the favourites for SPOTY — and would make a very popular winner in the sports world at large.
This is even more impressive when competing in a sport historically dominated by men.
Female jockeys were only allowed to race against men in 1972, and success has not always come easily.
Lewis, who this year matched Michael Schumacher’s record of seven F1 titles, would be another hugely worthy winner. He, too, is at the top of his game.
But Hollie reminds us that something positive is happening with women’s sport. The playing field is levelling.
This is a good time to be a woman. You can have ambition to work and succeed in any sector.
That is very different to a few decades ago, when women competing for jobs seen as traditionally male — such as being a jockey — were laughed at.
So the fact Hollie is now a contender to win Sports Personality Of The Year is an emblem of hope for all sportswomen.
Changes are happening in football, too, where West Ham United compete in the Women’s Super League.
There is just one issue — players earn nothing like what their male counterparts do, as the game’s revenues are so much lower.
And there’s the rub — the earnings. Why should the revenue for women’s sports in general be lower?
Something must change to get people more invested in women’s sport.
But in the meantime, Hollie being such a strong contender is a symbol of positive change — of women succeeding and being taken seriously in sport.
As positive omens for the year ahead go, I’ll take it.
Something is going on with Charlene's hair
WHAT is going on with Princess Charlene of Monaco and her new hairdo?
I’m not sure anyone can look good with an asymmetrical shaved cut . . . though she comes very close to pulling it off.
More importantly, why has she done it?
Such a drastic haircut seems like a major act of rebellion by someone who doesn’t give a fig what other people think of her.
But in my experience, when a woman has such a dramatic haircut, it means something is going on.
It signifies a major change.
Sometimes it is simply a case “change your hair, change your man”.
I just hope Charlene is OK.
Twiggy looks amazing and stylish
IT is hard to believe Twiggy is still gracing the cover of Vogue, most recently Vogue Greece.
She looks incredible and it is impossible to accept she is 71.
She looks at least 20 years younger.
But who cares how old she is?
She is proof that whatever your age, you can still look amazing and stylish.
Deprived kids are national scandal
I THINK we all shared a shudder of sadness and dismay at the news last week that two million children have gone hungry since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, including one in five in London.
According to the Social Market Foundation report, one in four children here have faced some form of food deprivation and parents are regularly going hungry to be able to feed their kids.
It’s devastating and heartbreaking to think this is happening in Britain in 2020.
And for the first time in its 70-year history, Unicef – the UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian aid to children – is stepping in to feed deprived youngsters here.
Last week it pledged £25,000 to a South London charity to help supply breakfast boxes over the Christmas holidays.
It is dreadful that this is necessary.
And sadly, it is not only South London that needs help. Newham, the East London borough that is home to West Ham United, also struggles with a lot of deprivation and need.
I am really proud to say that West Ham players, management and fans have come together to help.
Collectively, we have doubled our commitment to our Holiday Hunger programme which provides free and healthy meals – alongside sport – to the most vulnerable schoolchildren.
We have pledged to give £100,000 to the project over 2021. I am so proud of the efforts of West Ham supporters to assist Newham Foodbank.
Yes, this has been a devastating year. But it has also revealed the very best of people.
It is unbearable to think of children going hungry at any time – but particularly over Christmas, which should be the most wonderful time of the year. And, year round, the fact so many children are lacking basic food every day is very sad.
To my mind, it is another reminder that if we are that much in need, we should cut more from the foreign aid budget immediately.
It must also be very difficult psychologically to grow up deprived in a country as rich as ours.
Things need to change.
Paul deserves a break
GIVEN Sir Paul McCartney, who is now 78, has been world-famous for pretty much his entire adult life, I am so pleased to hear he is finding an upside to this pandemic and the fact we have to cover our faces when we are out and about.
The Beatles legend said this week he is enjoying the anonymity face masks bring because he can “go anywhere and do anything” without people recognising him.
After a lifetime spent being pursued and mobbed by fans, no wonder he is enjoying a bit of respite now he is allowed to hide behind a face mask.
I am sure he’s not the only one. Sir Paul has been famous for 60 years . . . so he deserves a break.
This isn't justice
ETON College is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons at the moment.
The latest news – about a paedophile teacher who was jailed for five years this week after abusing pupils – is shocking. But perhaps the most appalling aspect is the length of his sentence.
Geography teacher Matthew Mowbray, 49, was found guilty of eight counts of sexual activity with a child and admitted downloading hundreds of indecent images of children.
He ran a photography club and took pictures of pupils before combining them with images of child abuse to create his own sickening material.
A five-year sentence for such a disgusting abuse of trust is nowhere near enough.
This story reminds us all the money and privilege in the world can’t safeguard you from the most damaging kind of abuse.
It’s good he is going to jail. But it should be longer.
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