I may have acted hastily in clicking the e-petition to get Tyson Fury off the BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist. Normally I think a bit more carefully, but I was the worse for three cups of coffee, up against a deadline, and thus inevitably on FaceBook. I was vulnerable to the emotive arguments of people I like, and all it took was three clicks from me to feel I’d played my part in tackling homophobia.
Except of course, no. Tyson Fury still doesn’t like teh gays, and if the BBC were to disqualify him at this late stage, it would only encourage beeb-bashers who like to think that the Corporation has an agenda, as if they would ever be that organised. And also, of course, Tyson Fury has earned his place in the final by dint of his sporting prowess. It’s a contest for sportspeople, folks, not Guardian readers – the clue is in the title.
Each year, the top achievers from the world of British sport get to compete for Sports Personality of the Year, though I’ve talked to enough professional sports people to tell you that – with a few notable exceptions – spending your formative years perfecting the putting of spherical objects into inconvenient spaces while someone else tries to stop you does not, in itself, build much in the way of personality. It’s refreshing that Tyson Fury has any sort of personality at all, even if it’s one I don’t particularly care for.
Fury is, apart from anything, a reminder that sport used to be the way that working class kids from poor backgrounds got themselves out of sink estates. Thinking about the world of sports now, it all feels desperately middle class: tennis and rugby are perceived as ‘posh’ sports, and football is dominated at the top end by overseas players. Athletics is, like acting, becoming overcrowded by young people from fee-paying schools which can afford facilities beyond a pair of plimsols and a whistle. And that’s the athletes: as for spectators, who has the sort of disposable income you need to be able to buy a season ticket these days?
Professional fighting isn’t something I like any more than I like homophobia, but it does seem to be one of the last arenas which has a working class audience and which affords working class people the opportunities to compete. For the record, I’ve sat ringside at a boxing event and it wasn’t the sort of thing I’d ever want to see again, which was a shame because the fighters themselves were all, to a man, utterly charming, lovely, polite and respectful people. The problem was (for me) that everybody around them was powerfully unpleasant to meet. And then I got someone else’s blood on my sleeve and would’ve left except I’d been paid quite a lot of money to say some jokes into a bad microphone between bouts and was therefore obliged to see the night through to the end.
Complaining about Tyson Fury’s dislike of homos smacks of a victim mentality. If you don’t like me being gay, that is, believe it or not, fine. In my lifetime, we’ve got equal marriage, the end of Section 28, and I can no longer be fired from a job because of my sexuality. I am not the victim. If you don’t like gays, you are the victim, because you are the one out of step with the law, society and common sense. You are free not to like me, because there is nothing you can do about it, apart from maybe denying me your company which I don’t want anyway. Almost everything else is actionable. Queers used to get roughed up by the police. Now the issue that exercises us the most is where to buy our wedding cakes: face facts, we’ve won. Kicking Tyson Fury off the SPOTY shortlist for expressing views that would make Jim Davidson shift uncomfortably in his seat would be as unfair as it would be for sportspeople to be kicked off for their sexuality.
If there is any argument against Tyson Fury, it is that he sets a poor example to young people. A casual glance out of the window assures me that the Church of England school opposite where I am writing this is still standing. Faith-based organisations (largely C of E, but Catholics and others too) have sought to meddle in law-making, specifically in attempts to hold back or reverse progression on rights for gays and while we’re at it, women, to name but two groups. Despite their track record in this, as well as the even more shameful and criminal organised protection of sexual predators within their hierarchy, they are still allowed to operate schools. Tyson’s old-fashioned attitudes have nothing on these guys. If you want to stop homophobic bullying, don’t take your fight to Tyson Fury (he’s bigger than you, and smaller than the problem). Take it to the faith schools who push the agenda every single day in every single town. Or for that matter, considering that we’ve only had four women winning SPOTY since 1990, may I suggest Mr Fury’s attitude to women isn’t that far removed from the viewers who will be voting for him?
So congratulations to Tyson Fury on his sporting triumphs this year that have rightly won him a place on the shortlist of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. I just hope the unreconstructed troglodyte doesn’t actually win the bloody thing.