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Are unsavoury characters deserving of SPOTY acclaim? The moral dilemma now facing Beeb’s venerable old show

By Laurence White

Published 09/12/2015

Boxer Tyson Fury has been shortlisted for the SPOTY award
Boxer Tyson Fury has been shortlisted for the SPOTY award

It would be interesting to be able to listen into the fevered conversations taking place between BBC executives on the controversy that has engulfed the Sports Personality of the Year show taking place in Belfast in 11 days' time.

Those executives face probably the biggest dilemma anyone connected with SPOTY has ever had to confront. What do they do about Tyson Fury?

His disgraceful remarks about homosexuals, paedophiles, abortion and women mark him not as a potential personality of the year, sporting or otherwise, but as a man who on this occasion failed to engage any brain cells before opening his mouth. But then he has been roundly criticised for them, and his fanbase - swollen by his unexpected world heavyweight boxing title win - should now be ebbing faster than Lake District rivers.

Whatever contempt comes his way he deserves it, though he does not seem the kind of person who will be too greatly concerned by criticism.

And he can always point out that he did not ask to be put on the shortlist for SPOTY, and indeed was not on the original list of 10 drawn up by judges. Whoever insisted that his name should be added at the 11th hour is still unclear, but it has left the judges in an embarrassing position.

Yet it is not half as embarrassing as the position the Corporation finds itself in. Does it, or should it, stand in moral judgment of those who achieve sporting success? Fury, as a world champion, would in normal circumstances be a shoo-in for a SPOTY shortlist, but these are not normal circumstances.

While the BBC has said that his name won't be removed, will it really run the risk of athlete Greg Rutherford withdrawing his own name in protest at Fury's inclusion?

Where would that end? Jessica Ennis-Hill might feel perfectly entitled to do likewise given Fury's comments on women, and few would blame her if she did.

Already a petition calling for Fury's exclusion is gathering momentum and the BBC - funded in large part by the 25 million licence payers who contribute around £4bn a year to the Corporation - cannot just turn a blind eye to its paying, and baying, public.

As I said, it would be interesting to listen to what is going on behind the scenes at the moment, but it seems that the last place we will learn what is going on is from the BBC itself. Its famed newsgathering seems to stop at the doors of Broadcasting House as far as this story is concerned.

SPOTY is something of an institution, getting to the venerable stage now but usually only of interest to couch potatoes like me who watch any sport. Today, it has a whole new audience but sadly for the wrong reason.

And even more sadly because it is being broadcast from here for the first time. That was a great endorsement of Belfast and our ability to host major television events, but we never thought it would be this interesting.

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