Tyson Fury row BBC fight to save SPOTY as Olympic hero Greg Rutherford threatens to quit awards over boxer's inclusion
BBC bosses are fighting a frantic battle to save the Sports Personality of the Year awards (SPOTY), after a leading contender threatened to pull out because of the Tyson Fury controversy.
Olympic star Greg Rutherford is understood to have told the BBC he is considering withdrawing if Fury stays on the shortlist.
It marks a dramatic twist in the growing row, which is threatening to engulf next weekend's Belfast showpiece.
Last night, senior BBC executives were locked in crisis talks in a bid to defuse the furore.
Sources told the Belfast Telegraph that the BBC fears a domino effect - if one contender pulls out, others could follow.
The broadcaster is under mounting pressure over Fury's presence on the shortlist for next Sunday's star-studded event.
It follows controversy over the newly-crowned world heavyweight boxing champion's comments about homosexuality and paedophilia.
However, the threat of Rutherford pulling out marks a serious escalation in the row.
The 29-year-old was one of the poster boys of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
He was nominated for Sports Personality after winning gold at the World Championships in Beijing earlier this year.
The revelation that he is considering withdrawing leaves the BBC facing a difficult choice.
Either it bows to the growing pressure and boots out Fury in what would be a very public climbdown - or it stands by its original decision to include him on the shortlist.
But that would risk other stars joining Rutherford by withdrawing. If further nominees follow, the entire event could be at risk.
Fury defeated Wladimir Klitschko in Dusseldorf 11 days ago to secure the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight belts.
The 27-year-old was quickly installed as one of the favourites to win SPOTY.
But he was strongly criticised for airing his views on homosexuality in the lead-up to his title shot.
In one interview, Fury made particularly disparaging comments about abortion and homosexuality.
He also drew criticism for reportedly saying a woman's "best place is on her back" and announcing that Olympic medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill "looks good in a dress".
Last night, a petition calling for the BBC to remove him from the shortlist passed 110,000 signatures.
It also emerged police were investigating an allegation of hate crime linked to his remarks.
Greater Manchester Police received a call following comments made about homosexuality on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme. Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party called for his de-selection.
Yesterday Fury was branded a "d***head" by one of the BBC's own presenters. Veteran news reader Clive Myrie insisted he "cannot" win the coveted award. During a live TV newspaper review, Myrie said: "You cannot be a d***head and win Sports Personality of The Year Award."
Last night, Rutherford's agent did not respond to calls.
Asked about Rutherford's threat, the BBC said: "We won't be commenting." The BBC has said Fury's inclusion on the shortlist did not mean Sports Personality of the Year endorsed his personal views.
A spokesman said: "Tyson Fury's victory and subsequent crowning as world heavyweight champion was widely covered by media outlets and his inclusion on the shortlist is similarly recognition of his sporting achievement - it is not about endorsing his personal views.
"It will be for the public to decide who will be crowned the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015."