LONDON (Reuters) – With a name like his, Tyson Fury was not destined to be a shy and retiring wallflower.
Since becoming world heavyweight champion, the 27-year-old British boxer has been living up to his name, provoking fury well beyond the ring with his pronouncements on homosexuality, women, fellow athletes and a range of other topics.
One of sport’s biggest upsets, Fury’s victory last month over long-standing world champion Wladimir Klitschko has earned him a spot on the shortlist for the BBC’s prestigious Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) award.
But along with recognition of his sporting achievement, the man who calls himself the “Gypsy King” to honour his Irish traveller heritage has also gained much wider exposure for his controversial views since his overnight rise to global fame.
An online petition calling on the BBC to deselect him because of comments widely seen as homophobic has now gathered close to 100,000 signatures.
“Young people need sports personalities that they can look up to, not people who express outrageous homophobic views, which can cause bullying and self-harm,” the petition reads.
It cited an interview with the Mail on Sunday newspaper in which Fury, a born-again Christian, said three things needed to happen “before the devil comes home”. These were “homosexuality being legal in countries”, along with abortion and paedophilia.
On Tuesday, the BBC reported that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) had received a call complaining about comments made by Fury on homosexuality during a BBC programme.
“We take every allegation of hate crime extremely seriously and we will be attending the victim’s address to take a statement,” the BBC quoted a GMP spokeswoman as saying.
The police would then make a decision on whether any investigations continue, added GMP, who were not immediately available to comment when contacted by Reuters.
The BBC defended 27-year-old Fury’s inclusion on the SPOTY shortlist.
“The Sports Personality shortlist is compiled by a panel of industry experts and is based on an individual’s sporting achievement,” it said in a statement.
“It is not an endorsement of an individual’s personal beliefs, either by the BBC or members of the panel.”
“I DON’T HATE ANYBODY”
Fury has responded to the controversy with a series of sometimes conflicting comments in media interviews and on Twitter.
“Let’s not try and make me out to be some evil person and I hate gays because I don’t hate anybody. I can actually say I don’t hate anybody,” he told the BBC on Monday.
He had tweeted on Friday that he hoped not to win the BBC award as he wasn’t the best role model for children and that it should go to someone who would appreciate it.
But in following tweets he struck a more defiant note.
“I’ve got more personality than all the other competitors put together,” read one tweet. “Just to recap, I stick by anything I’ve said in the past, 10000% being the heavyweight champion makes no difference to me, I’m a roll (sic) model,” was another.
Regarding his views on women, Fury declared: “I’m not sexist. 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.”
Of fellow SPOTY contender Jessica Ennis-Hill, Britain’s Olympic heptathlon champion, he said: “She slaps up well.”
On Monday, even fellow boxers who had been thrilled about Fury’s title triumph joined the backlash against him.
Former British world champion David Haye labelled him a “moron” and said in a newspaper interview: “Come on man – just shut up.”
(Additional reporting by Ken Ferris; Editing by Estelle Shirbon and Gareth Jones)