Belfast Telegraph

There's no need to kick Tyson Fury out, just don't vote for him

By Fionola Meredith

What do you do with a man like Tyson Fury? Ignore him? Censor him? Arrest him? Kick him out of the Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) competition? These are weighty issues for our times.

The world champion boxer's views on homosexuality, paedophilia and abortion are so outrageously, ludicrously offensive that they sound fictional. If you made up a character like Fury he would be some kind of pantomime bad guy, a raging Mr Anti-PC, almost too farcical to be believed. "A woman's best place is in the kitchen and on her back," he'd say, and everyone would roar with laughter because nobody goes round saying such cartoonish, antediluvian things in real life, do they? Except Tyson does say that, and plenty worse besides.

Perhaps the first thing to do is take a deep, calming breath. There's no need to get into such a hyper-emotional tizzy. Nobody has died. A boxer has simply said some hateful, stupid things which have been rightly challenged and condemned.

Unsurprisingly, an online petition calling on the BBC to remove Fury's name from the SPOTY shortlist has, at the time of writing, accumulated well over 100,000 signatures, because these things always do. As the writer Marina Hyde has pointed out, by the time of the SPOTY broadcast on December 20 - if Fury hasn't been turfed out before then - the petition "will probably have outstripped the 182,000 signatories against bombing Syria". We are talking about a fairly trivial light entertainment programme here. Truly, a sense of proportion is required.

As I see it, the problem with excluding Fury from the awards is that it turns a sports achievement competition into a morality race (I mean the popular kind of morality, largely policed by social media and characterised by conformity to certain prime rules like 'don't be nasty about gay people' and 'don't be nasty about women').

Fury's deluded rantings about Armageddon, abortion and all the rest may be on the extreme end, but I'd be surprised if the other candidates on the list lived lives of perfect moral probity. I mean, which of us does? It's possible that the nominated sports celebs may hold dodgy - for which read socially unacceptable - views on all kinds of issues. Maybe they think it's cool to smoke in cars containing kids, or have a sneaking regard for Jeremy Clarkson. Who knows? They may not just be as vocal about their ideas as Fury likes to be.

If you start picking people off the shortlist purely on the basis of their opinions then it's not a sports competition any more, it's something else entirely. The reality, of course, is that top sportspeople tend to be notoriously dull, because they have had to subsume their entire personality into the process of getting to the top, and many don't have a particular view about anything other than the right kind of grips for tennis rackets, say, or the best strawberry-flavour protein shakes.

Trying to get Fury kicked out before he's had a chance to be put to the public vote also puts little faith in the population at large to see what a prize plonker Tyson Fury actually is, and vote accordingly. Okay, we have already agreed - haven't we? - that SPOTY is hardly on a par with Syria in terms of its intrinsic global significance, but I hate to see a pre-emptive strike on democratic process, wherever it occurs.

Besides, there's no need to extract Fury from the competition in advance because there's little chance he will win. I'm confident that the voting public will reject him all by themselves, which is a more substantial repudiation of Fury and his wacky, noxious views than could ever be achieved by hoicking him out prematurely.

Here's the thing: we do not need moral guardians (of the religious or secular variety) to show us the way. We don't need protected from ourselves like little children. As sentient adults we are capable of exercising our own judgment on this and all other issues, great and small.

Of course, I could be wrong, and the public may decide in their droves to crown Mr Tyson Fury BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015, less because they're impressed with his boxing prowess or his ring-a-ding views and more because they're sick of being preached at and not trusted to act appropriately by petition-signing, do-gooding types.

Either way, so what? That's democracy, baby, and it makes us the free people we are. Now bring on this crucially important vote.

Belfast Telegraph


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