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Wednesday, December 09, 2015 

The petitioners and the Fury.

As another miserable year draws to a close, it does so with an air of deja vu.  The year began with demands that Ched Evans be denied employment with any football league club after being released on licence from his jail term for rape.  It ends with demands for Tyson Fury, not convicted of anything but with a whole array of obnoxious opinions, to be denied so much as a place on the shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year.

Sports Personality of the Year has always been a misnomer; some might go so far as say an oxymoron.  Rare has the public vote ever been about personality as opposed to achievement, with it only coming into play when there is something resembling a choice on offer, as opposed to the usual one or two with the main claim to being the outstanding performer of the year.  And let's face it: when Zara Phillips can win (worth noting is that the infinitely more deserving Beth Tweddle came third that year), despite having no discernible personality beyond being a minor Royal and on the basis of being quite good on top of a horse trained to do something you can't so much as gamble on, there has in the past been something rotten at the heart of Dodge.

Fury everyone agrees does have a personality.  He is as Barney Ronay puts it in an excellent profile a more complex figure than merely a boxer with a sideline in expressing his unpalatable religiously influenced views on homosexuality, women and the fast approaching apocalypse.  Not many pugilists will during their careers admit to any sort of weakness, let alone as Fury has talk about depression and suicide.  Not many "dickheads" with boneheaded, antediluvian views will be able to outfight and outthink an opponent like Wladimir Klitschko, proving the experts wrong.  Not many from Fury's background will have a moment in the sun beyond getting the chance to appear on a Channel 4 documentary, to be gawped at, laughed about and feared all at the same time.

Fury in short breaks all the agreed upon rules of being a sportsperson in 2015.  No, you can't be a completely blank canvas and succeed, but nor can you be any more divisive than say, Andy Murray is, criticised in the past for coming across as grumpy and morose.  The vast majority will shrink from making any sort of comment on politics whatsoever, not least because it's often written into their contracts and is bound to come into consideration when sponsors make their decisions on whom to fund.  Only once you've achieved the success of someone like Murray can you then start to make your views known on a topic as controversial as Scottish independence and get away with it, personally and financially.

We are then back in the parallel universe where some truly believe the aura of a sportsperson can be so overwhelming, it can subvert every norm and value inculcated in an individual since birth.  Ched Evans, the argument went, could not just waltz back into his former position at Sheffield United as he was a role model.  It would send the message that you could commit a crime as terrible as rape and be welcomed back afterwards as though nothing had happened.  With Evans there were the further extenuating circumstances that he continued to claim his innocence (his case has since been referred back to the Court of Appeal), that he was out on licence rather than having completed his sentence, and that his victim had been repeatedly named and abused on social media by supporters of Evans, connected with him or not.  The campaign as it was succeeded, and failing the quashing of his conviction it seems Evans will not play professional football again.  To me at the time it seemed a punishment out of all proportion with the offence, however grave; others felt strongly the other way.

With Fury there are no such extenuating circumstances.  Nothing he has said is or should be illegal, as Peter Tatchell for one has set out while condemning his views.  The absurdity of not so much as wanting the wider public to be allowed to reject him in a vote is made clear by the petition itself, which says

The BBC clearly do not understand that by nominating Fury, who has on a number of occasions expressed homophobic views and compared homosexuality to paedophilia, they are putting him up as a role model to young people all over the UK and the world.

In this strange view of how things work, it's not Fury's achievement of winning the world heavyweight championship that makes him a role model, it's the BBC's recognising of his success.  Leave aside that you can look up to someone's sporting prowess while at same time despising them in every other respect, as you can with the man Fury was named after, or as will become the case with Oscar Pistorius, and you're left with the impression the petition starter truly believes if only the media were to ignore or ostracise people who make their unpleasant views known in public, the remaining barriers to LBGT participation in sport would fall away.

Scott Cuthbertson presumably doesn't believe that, as discrimination is far more insidious and embedded in both sport and society as a whole than encapsulated by the brash statements of a throwback, and yet both he and 130,000 others seemingly don't want to chance the British public deciding otherwise.  While it can often seem as though the great British value of tolerance isn't all it's cracked up to be, do the signatories truly believe someone who says a woman's place is either in the kitchen or "on her the back" and speaks in the same breath about homosexuality and paedophilia can win such a major award, rather than Jessica Ennis-Hill, whom Fury insulted?  Wouldn't those who signed it better serve their cause if they campaigned for Greg Rutherford, who has made clear his unhappiness about Fury's inclusion but decided not to withdraw?  Indeed, wouldn't this country be a better place if the ridiculous pretence was dropped that a person's talent, or when it comes to "reality" stars complete lack of, means they should be judged and treated more harshly?

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We could do with a lot less of this 'role model' crap. Tyson Fury is and will remain a role model for aspiring boxers - anyone who wants to do what he does will be able to learn from how he does it. The rest of us aren't going to care one way or the other - any more than we currently live our lives by the Sayings of Gary Lineker or the Wit and Wisdom of Andy Murray.

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