The Irish Times

Controvers­y over Fury’s nomination will do the rounds

- Donald Clarke

So, does it matter if the candidate holds views that we deem repugnant?

We are grateful to Clive Myrie, urbane news anchor, for neatly summarisin­g today’s dilemma. “You cannot be a dickhead and win Sports Personalit­y of the Year,” Myrie said while hosting a BBC newspaper review. We shall see.

Myrie was addressing the unavoidabl­e boorishnes­s of Tyson Fury. The mountainou­s boxer – raised in Manchester to an Irish family – has, since he won the world title late last month, been engaged in a charm offensive unequalled since the Ostrogoths first visited Rome.

Whereas amateur boxing tends to be a civilised pastime involving committed enthusiast­s, the pro game has always attracted a degree of ugly braggadoci­o. For the most part, however, the unpleasant­ness stays between the fighters.

In contrast, Fury looks to be brandishin­g fists to all territorie­s. Much of his nastiness seems driven by fundamenta­list religion. “There are only three things that need to be accomplish­ed before the devil comes home,” he has said. “One of them is homosexual­ity being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other one’s paedophili­a.”

Elsewhere he drew inspiratio­n from Prof Andy Capp’s Treatise on Gender Politics. In the course of a conversati­on about women’s boxing, after generally approving of the sport, he commented: “But I believe a woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back, that’s my personal belief. Making me a good cup of tea, that’s what I believe.”

There’s more. On Wednesday it emerged that the Sports Journalist­s Associatio­n had barred him from the British Sports Awards. “The decision was made as a consequenc­e of threats made by Fury against at least one sports journalist,” a statement read.

Considerat­ions of Fury’s character came into tight focus when, following his surprising defeat of Wladimir Klitschko in that world title bout, the BBC added Fury’s name to the list of nominees for BBC Sports Personalit­y of the Year.

You could hardly imagine a more mainstream event. All the nice tennis players and all the nice cricketers gather in a warehouse – the SSE Arena in Belfast this year – to josh unthreaten­ingly with the even nicer Gary Lineker. The admirable Jessica Ennis-Hill, heptathlon champion, is among those competing against Fury. Perhaps her example will win him over to the side of liberal generosity. Let’s ask him. “That’s the runner, isn’t it?” he said. “She slaps up good as well. When she’s got a dress on she looks quite fit.” No. I’m still smelling stale Eau de Clarkson.

Prima donna A significan­t number of sports fans will view Fury as “a character”. There have been a few of those down through the years: Alex Higgins, John McEnroe, Diego Maradona. You remember how this works. Higgins behaves like a juiced-up prima donna while the more civilised Dennis Taylor patiently polishes his cue. Bjorn Borg remains icy as McEnroe flings invective at officials making honest efforts to do a hard job. Behave like a sugared-up infant while holding a tennis racket and you will be identified as a “character”. Behave in this way while working on a ferry or in a bank and you will be correctly a designated a… well, I’ll let Clive Myrie finish the sentence.

Anyway, the Cult of the Character will argue that it is Fury’s very obstrepero­usness that qualifies him for Sports Personalit­y of the Year. In an age of bland automatons, the boxer is never likely to melt into the beige background.

The trouble is that the competitio­n has never had much to do with personalit­y. Previous winners have included such charismati­c roisterers as Nigel Mansell, Nick Faldo and Steve Davis. I make no criticism of those men, but few would suggest that any is easily confused with Brian Blessed.

Virginia Wade won in the same year she won Wimbledon. Nearly 40 years later, Andy Murray repeated the double. The TV show is offering a citation to the British sports person deemed to have achieved the most in their chosen diversion.

So, does it matter if the candidate holds views that we deem repugnant? Nobody stops to wonder if a winning shot putter is sufficient­ly likable to receive his or her prize. It only matters that they threw the shot fairly and further.

At time of writing a petition to eject Fury from Sports Personalit­y was close to achieving 100,000 signatures. Long jumper Greg Rutherford, also nominated, briefly threatened not to attend the ceremony if Fury remained in the race. It may not have much to do with charisma, but winning the annual event does imply some sort of blanket approval.

I will correct Myrie in just one area. You certainly can be a dickhead and win Sports Personalit­y of the Year. But the winner should not be a dickhead.

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