WHILE his comments certainly aren’t media-friendly, the boxer is entitled to freedom of speech, writes Lori Anderson
Traditionally the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award is a large silver television camera mounted on a deep black wooden plinth but this year there is an appetite for a touch of decorative renovation. Thousands of people have now launched a petition to see it recast as a solid silver boxing glove, not so that it can be presented to the boxer Tyson Fury, the new heavyweight champion of the world, but so that he can have some common sense biffed into him. I’m joking of course, they want to keep the trophy and dump Fury as one of the dozen nominees.
In the red corner, their cheeks flushed scarlet with incandescent outrage, stands a party composed of Alice Arnold, the wife of Clare Balding, the BBC sports commentator, the Labour MP Chris Bryant and Scott Cuthbertson, an LGBT campaigner who started the petition to have Fury removed from the shortlist.
As Cuthbertson explained: “He has repeatedly made degrading, insulting and homophobic and sexist remarks. He is fully entitled to his views, but this is about the BBC putting Tyson up as a role model to young people.”
Bryant described Fury’s views as “deeply offensive” and that he was an unsuitable candidate while Arnold’s tweet compared him unfavourably to Andy Murray and the British team’s victory in the Davis Cup: “Two British victories, one by a consummate professional and gentleman and the other a homophobic idiot. I know who I’m cheering.” The petition has now secured 63,000 supporters.
Tyson Fury summoned up these outraged “Furies” in the run up to his prize-winning bout against Wladimir Klitschko in Dusseldorf in which he became the first British champ since Lennox Lewis. He gave an interview to a Sunday newspaper where the conversation briefly left the ring and took a quick tour around the boxer’s religious beliefs. Fury is from the Irish travellers’ community which as we’ve all seen from My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and its endless spin-offs, has attitudes that stand in stark contrast to current society as regards the role of women. Like other traveller couples, Fury and his wife were virgins until their wedding night and neither drink alcohol. They live like any young couple – if this was the 1940s when his views would have been common currency.
In the interview Fury said: “There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is paedophilia. Who would have thought in the 50s and 60s that those first two would be legalised? When I say paedophiles could be made legal, it sounds crazy. But if I had said to you about the first two being made legal in the 50s, I would have been looked upon as a crazy man.”
Speaking about his wife, Paris, Fury said: “Her job is cooking and cleaning and looking after the kids. But she does get to make some decisions, what she is going to cook me for tea when I get home. She is a very privileged women to have a husband like me.”
A previous interview on YouTube has also been called in by the prosecution where he said of Jessica Ennis-Hill: “I think she’s good, she’s won quite a few medals for Britain, she slaps up good as well, when she’s got a dress on she looks quite fit.”
Let’s take them one at a time. The first comment is nasty, ugly and offensive. There is no moral equivalence between homosexual relations between consenting adults and sex with children. Yes, the British state once thought both were criminal acts but it is one of the great advancements of the last 40 years that gay people need no longer grow up with stigma and the fear of arrest. Fury was spouting Christian fundamentalist claptrap which in a society where freedom of speech is protected he is entitled to do, regardless of how much we might disagree so long as he doesn’t incite violence against others which he hasn’t done. The idea that he may now be interviewed by the police over his comments is ridiculous. As for his other comments, clearly many will view them as sexist, which they are, but people have the right to express their own opinions even if they resemble punch drunk religious ramblings.
What this controversy comes down to is the unfortunate wording of the BBC’s trophy. It is not the “Sports Person” but “Personality” which seems to indicate a more rounded approach than the simple criteria of who achieved the most in their particular sport in any given year. Yet a BBC spokesperson insisted that this is exactly the sole criteria: “The Sports Personality shortlist is compiled by a panel of industry experts and is based on an individual’s sporting achievements. It is not an endorsement of an individuals personal beliefs by the BBC or members of the panel.”
If you believe that winning the heavy weight championship of the world is of enough sporting significance to secure a place on a shortlist of twelve, as I do, then Fury has undoubtedly earned his spot. If you ask me whether or not he deserves to win then I’d argue that on the grounds of “sports” he clearly has a good shot but that he’s lacking in a palatable media “personality”. Boxing is a brutal, ugly sport and Fury’s views and comments are similarly unpalatable but they are separate from what his dedication, training and perseverance have achieved. In other words when it comes to the Sports Personality of the Year Award he deserves to be in the ring but I think he’s most likely to be knocked out early in the round.