New Year’s Honours list prioritises stars over ordinary people

Sir Andy Murray was one athlete from Rio 2016 to be awarded in the New Year's Honours List. Credit: Andy Miah via Flickr

By Chris Jones

The 2016 Olympics in Rio was an undeniable victory for the UK. Despite being geographically tiny compared to the other frontrunners, Team GB placed second in the overall rankings table. It seems only fitting, then, that the most high-profile entries in the recent New Year’s Honours list are athletes that worked toward Britain’s Olympic success story. Headlines will naturally celebrate the inclusion of sporting stars Andy Murray, Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill.

They’re recognisable names, ones we’re accustomed to celebrating because of their success. Farah and Ennis-Hill are popular gold medal winners, while Murray is the world number one tennis player and current Wimbledon and Olympic champion. But consider, for a moment, that their place among the honoured list, while well-intentioned, detracts from the success of others on the list lacking a celebrity image.

As the official government website phrases it, the honours list is meant to ‘recognise the achievements and service of extraordinary people across the United Kingdom.’ The honours are admittedly diverse, awarding remarkable achievements in less glamorous areas of work such as politics, education, and public service. But the inclusion of already famous celebrities overshadows these achievements, as people will focus their celebration on the people that they already attribute to success.

In total, the list included 1,197 people, so expecting everyone awarded an honour to be championed by the headlines is unrealistic. Still, by pushing celebrity names to the fore of the list’s coverage, the media further undermines the actions of the ordinary citizens who fill out the list. Most of their accomplishments pertain only to local communities, so while a nation-wide appreciation of their achievements is unlikely, it isn’t unreasonable to expect those living in the area to know which locals are being awarded. And yet, you would be hard pressed to find someone from Cardiff aware of the fifteen locals considered worthy of making the honours list.

That’s not to say I think people should be ashamed for not knowing this; I certainly didn’t before writing this article. Like most people, I was only aware of the athletes, actors, and other celebrities that have been lauded by the media coverage.

This is hardly a new trend, either. Chris Hoy, Ben Ainslie, and Bradley Wiggins are only a few of the many athletes to have been awarded knighthoods for their work in sports. This is particularly the case following an Olympic year. When the 2013 new year’s honours were announced, the list was headlined by the athletes who participated in the London 2012 Olympics.

I’m not arguing that these athletes aren’t worthy of praise. They’re each at the top of their respective sport, so it’s easy to think their place on the list is warranted. But consider that each of them have already been awarded for their skills. Gold medals, trophies and titles have already been awarded to them, so it’s fair to think that they’ve been adequately championed for their achievements. Their place in the list undermines the greatest message that the New Year’s honours sends to the nation: that ordinary people achieving extraordinary things should be celebrated. As it stands, they are undeservedly being overlooked.

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