After the comments and the controversy, the petition and the questions in parliament, came at last a result that was probably inevitable from the moment Andy Murray sent an inch-perfect lob over the head of Belgium’s David Goffin to secure Great Britain’s first Davis Cup in 79 years.
Murray was named the BBC Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday in a star-studded ceremony in Belfast for the inspiring, pivotal role he played in that team victory.
In a gracious, even nervous acceptance speech, the player joked about his reputation for lacking personality, and directed praise at his team-mates, who, he had earlier insisted, deserved to share in his nomination. He had never expected to win, he said later, “because there have been so many incredible performances this year”.
Murray, who was added late to the list of nominations following the Davis Cup triumph last month, edged out world champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, the early favourite, who came third, and the Leeds Rhinos player Kevin Sinfield, the first person ever nominated from rugby league, who was voted into an impressive second place.
Absent from the winner’s platform, however – to the undoubted relief of 140,000 people who had signed a petition protesting at his inclusion on the shortlist – was the heavyweight world boxing champion Tyson Fury. The boxer had dominated coverage in the run-up to the BBC’s annual sporting shindig, after his victory over Wladimir Klitschko last month brought attention to comments he had earlier made linking homosexuality with paedophilia.
Asked in a subsequent interview to explain his remarks, he instead chose to add that he believed a woman’s place was “in the kitchen and on her back”. Fury used his appearance in Belfast to offer an apology “if I have said anything in the past that has hurt anybody”. “It’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek and it’s all fun and games with me,” he said.
That might have been more timely several weeks ago, before MPs had quizzed the BBC director general over Fury’s inclusion on the 12-strong shortlist, and Greater Manchester police briefly launched a hate crime investigation. A BBC news presenter called him a “dickhead”, and another was suspended for saying he was “ashamed” of the corporation for not excluding the boxer.
The long jumper Greg Rutherford, nominated for the prize after adding world championship gold to his European, Commonwealth and Olympic titles in August, asked that his name be withdrawn from the contest in protest at Fury’s inclusion. He was later persuaded to change his mind. Outside the venue, a small but noisy gathering of protesters held banners reading “Furious at BBC” and chanted “Anti-women, anti-gay, Tyson Fury, go away”.
Murray, a huge boxing fan, defended Fury after the ceremony to reporters, calling his win “an incredible achievement”. “Not everyone obviously has to agree with what he said but I do believe that he has the right to say it. That’s freedom of speech and people have the right to disagree with what he says as well.”
But, as it happens, sport in 2015 was not all about Fury. Eight of the dozen nominees were individual world champions, including Mo Farah, who repeated his Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m double gold at the World Athletics Championships in August, and Max Whitlock, who became the first Briton ever to win artistic gymnastic gold in October, and performed a pommel horse routine on top of a grand piano in the 8,000-seater SSE arena.
In quieter years, Lizzie Armitstead, the world road race cycling champion, double Tour de France winner Chris Froome, Formula One triple champion Lewis Hamilton or footballer Lucy Bronze, pivotal in England’s third-place finish at the World Cup in June, might have thought they were in with a shout.
Swimmer Adam Peaty, who won three world championship golds in August and was the final name on the list, admitted to the Guardian before the event that he was “kind of starstruck … I’m only 20 years old. I’d just like to meet the other guys. Just be nice to get a glimpse of them, really.”
Belfast city council and Tourism Northern Ireland had paid the BBC almost £240,000 for the privilege of hosting the event, and will have been delighted with the very Northern Irish event they got for their money.
Local hero AP McCoy, roared to the rafters as he picked up a lifetime achievement award retiring after 20 seasons as champion jockey, thanked the stable lads and lasses who had helped him throughout his career, and in particular the horses he had ridden, “because without them it wouldn’t be possible”.
Manager of the year went to Michael O’Neill, who coached the Northern Ireland football team to a place in the European Championships next year. The reception he received might have suggested the Euros were already won.
And then there was Murray. The tennis player, currently ranked number two in the world, has won the title before, in 2013, and was placed an impressive third in the bumper year behind Bradley Wiggins and Ennis-Hill, but didn’t turn up in person on either occasion.
But sweet as claiming the Wimbledon title must be, securing the Davis Cup, as part of a team that also included Kyle Edmund, James Ward and his brother, Jamie, was evidently even sweeter. Murray came to the ceremony dressed in the same blue suit as his teammates, and insisted before accepting the award that he felt awkward to be standing in front of them, saying: “We should be in a line”. Fittingly, in that case, they also won team of the year alongside him.
Accepting the individual award, Murray said: “I have dedicated my life to this sport. I work as hard as I can every day to try to make you proud. And I appreciate all the votes.”
The only bigger winner of the evening, in fact, was the BBC, which after watching its annual roundup show generate headlines and spark social media storms for weeks, will have been immensely satisfied with its conclusion: a withdrawal averted, a belated apology, and an eventual winner with whose achievement, even in such a successful sporting year, few could truly quibble.
• This article was amended on 21 December 2015. An earlier version called Lewis Hamilton a double Formula One champion. This has been corrected. He has won the world championship three times.