The William Hill Sports Book of the Year shortlist has been announced and as usual it contains a number of exceptional works from the world of sport in the past year. Sadly though, it also features the controversial apology for bullfighting Into the Arena by Alexander Fiske-Harrison.
I'm really surprised that such a respected literary sports award would give Into the Arena the oxygen of publicity its "narcissistic" author so clearly desires. I'm also dismayed from a literary perspective as I suspect the novelty of having a bullfighting book on the shortlist rather than the quality of the prose is the overriding factor in its nomination. That's not just my admittedly biased animal welfare perspective that view was echoed by Mark Rowlands, when he reviewed the book for the Times Literary Supplement.
I had a quick look on the William Hill website. It doesn't seem possible to place a bet on the outcome of a bullfight, bookmakers are no fools they know that bulls have no chance once they are taken to the ring. Nor is it deemed tasteful to bet on how many times the bull will be skewered by the picador's lance. However, William Hill punters can bet on fictional WWE wrestling showing that their oddsmakers place more credibility on a scripted performing art than Mr Fiske-Harrison's sport. If only their shortlisting judges had applied the same common sense.
In addition to Into the Arena, I have read two other books on this year's shortlist - A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Roland Reng and Engage: The fall and rise of Matt Hampson by Paul Kimmage. Reng's book about German international goalkeeper Enke who took his own life in 2009 despite being close to the pinnacle of his sport is especially moving without ever descending into being patronising.
Engage tells the story of how Matt Hampson, a young promising rugby player fought back from a terrible training ground injury. Before joining the League I lived in Leicester, I was a Leicester Tiger's season ticket holder and I even worked at Welford Road for about a year, so I thought I was very familiar with Hambo's story, but it turns out I only knew the good bits. The bravery of Matt and his family shines through Kimmage's writing - if either of these worthy manuscripts lose out to Fiske-Harrison's efforts to justify the cruelty of bullfighting then William Hill will not be getting anymore of my business.