Ratepayers' £140k outlay on bringing Spoty to Belfast questioned in wake of Fury storm
The £140,000 of Belfast ratepayers' money that went towards bringing the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) awards could have been better spent, a councillor has said in the wake of the Tyson Fury controversy.
UUP councillor Jeffrey Dudgeon said that he would have preferred the money had been spent on other projects, rather than being handed to the BBC to stage the glitzy awards ceremony in the SSE Arena.
"I wasn't enthusiastic about putting the £140,000 in there. There's a graffiti problem in Belfast which would have cost a third of the amount."
Fury's controversial remarks about homosexuality, women and abortion have encouraged nearly 130,000 to sign an online petition to have him removed.
And last night he was summoned to meet the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) in the new year. Fury will be asked to explain comments he made about gay people and paedophiles in the wake of his win over long-time champion Wladimir Klitschko on November 28.
The BBBC confirmed that it had informed Fury on Wednesday night, following a meeting to discuss the matter, that it wanted to discuss his comments at a date still to be confirmed.
However, Fury will face no police action after a complaint to Greater Manchester Police (GMP) alleging his comments about homosexuals amounted to a hate crime. The GMP said it recorded the comments as a "hate incident" as opposed to a hate crime.
Other Belfast councillors have also spoken of their disappointment that the annual showpiece TV event had become bogged down in scandal after a six-figure sum had been spent on bringing it to the city.
Councillor Ross Brown from the Green Party said: "It is very disappointing that what should be a positive event is being overshadowed by the misogynistic and homophobic views of an individual, who, I believe, should not be held up as a sporting role model.
"I am calling on the BBC to reverse their decision to include him as a nominee."
He added that "Northern Ireland has produced some boxing greats and so it is even more disappointing that a boxer is bringing the awards into disrepute".
Mr Brown said he did see the value of spending public money on bringing big events to Belfast, but the row had "put a dampener on the whole thing".
He added: "If we are to encourage our young people to participate in sport, then it would be better to celebrate the successes of the other 11 nominees, giving their achievements the same level of profile as the disgraceful remarks of one."
Previously the council has supported other major events in Belfast such as the MTV awards and the Giro D'Italia, which cost £420,000 and £400,000 respectively. Sinn Fein councillor Mary-Ellen Campbell declined to comment on whether using ratepayers' money on the awards was worthwhile but voiced her opposition to Fury.
"These remarks are completely inappropriate and unacceptable and should be withdrawn immediately," she said.
"Racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and all forms of hate speech and discrimination must be challenged wherever they arise.
"While this is ultimately a decision for the BBC, they should not be giving a platform for these offensive views."
With just one week to go till the awards ceremony at the SSE, the campaign to remove Fury from the awards shortlist has skyrocketed in recent days.
Shortlisted Olympic long jumping gold medallist Greg Rutherford admitted that he quit the awards in protest at Fury's remarks, but was persuaded by the BBC to return.
BBC Northern Ireland reporter Andy West confirmed yesterday that he had been suspended from duty after posting on Facebook that he was "ashamed to work for the BBC".
Mr Dudgeon said: "I have some sympathy for the BBC reporter, it's a bit harsh to suspend him."
But he stopped short of calling for Fury to be removed from the competition.
"I would say that he hasn't committed a crime. There is a very heavy duty public campaign to have him removed," he said.
Mr Dudgeon concluded that he thought the current controversy would be best settled by the public vote.
"People can overdo things, I think leave it to the voters. People can decide for themselves what they think about Fury".
Fury has not ignored the controversy about his candidacy, however, which included comments about heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, who he said "slaps up good" and "looks quite fit" in a dress, and that a woman's place is in the kitchen.
Yesterday, when he was directly asked if he was a homophobe in a Sky Sports News interview, he said : "No, definitely not. I wouldn't be a very good Christian if I hated anybody, would I?"
Fury believes his words have been twisted in the media and said the ethnicity of the team he works with was an example of how he was "uniting Christians and Muslims".