We can all agree, I think, that the notion of a Sports Personality of the Year is something of an oxymoron. By and large sports people don’t really score on personality; there’s usually a tradeoff between being committed and being interesting; see Andy Murray. So the BBC title of that name has nothing really to do with personality; it’s more about profile and performance.
That’s plainly not true though of the aptly named Tyson Fury, the 18 stone boxing champion who came out of nowhere to become world heavyweight champion and who has personality in spades. He’s got a fabulous backstory too – the son of Irish travellers (interestingly his mother was a Belfast Prod) who came from a characteristically enormous family and who left school at 11. He’s a giant who’s utterly committed to his wife, with whom he rather wonderfully said he didn’t sleep before they were married (now that takes courage).
He doesn’t give much of a toss about received opinion, as can be seen in his view of homosexuality, which he tends to put on much of a level as paedophilia. He takes a dim view of abortion too. And we’ve seen just how that goes down with the commentariat. Oh and he made bad taste remarks about domestic violence (tricky in a traveller context) and he said that Jessica Ennis looked fit in a dress, as opposed to admiring her solely on the basis of her sporting performance. Unrepentantly, he tweeted, after the inevitable furore:
@J_Ennis if I'm going to get in trouble for giving a woman a compliment what has the world come to, I said u look fit in a dress?
— Gypsy King (@Tyson_Fury) December 4, 2015
Look, the pundits and the Left can’t have it both ways. You can have people from the most difficult backgrounds – and yes, travellers do get it in the neck, here and in Ireland, from the outside world – who achieve greatness by the traditional means available to the working class and the poor, viz, boxing, or you can have Polly bloody Toynbee. You only rarely can have both. It’s possible, I suppose, to combine the kind of really hard life and background that Tyson Fury had with impeccable liberalism, but by and large, that background and those views don’t go together.
Tricky for the liberal pundits, isn’t it? On the one hand, they like it when someone from a marginalised group makes good. On the other, they really hate it when he then goes on to express views entirely consistent with that background. Irish travellers are socially conservative, though nothing by comparison with many Muslims. They happen to be religious and rather moral in their sexual ethics — they’re the last group of indigenous Brits who really care about marriage, for instance — and because that Christianity and those ethics are on the whole Catholic rather than other, that loses them points with the people who award or withhold social approval as evidenced in the BBC award.
Well, stuff them, I’d say. Tyson Fury may be all too open in his views – and I’m with him on abortion and marriage – but he’s patently a sporting phenomenon. If the BBC award doesn’t go to him, well, it doesn’t diminish him; but it’d say everything about those who award it.