Tyson Fury’s appearance at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in Belfast on Sunday continued to cause controversy as the ceremony got under way.
A small but vocal group of protesters picketed the show over Fury’s previous comments relating to homosexuality and the role of women, chanting slogans such as “Anti-woman, anti-gay, Tyson Fury go away”.
Meanwhile a section of the 7,500 audience booed Fury when his name was read out along with those of the other 11 shortlisted athletes at the beginning of the show.
The protest outside Belfast’s SSE arena was kept well away from the red carpet but coincided with the arrival of the audience.
John O’Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project, an LBGT support group, said: “It is very disappointing that the BBC have ignored public opinion and refused to remove Tyson Fury from the shortlist, even though his late addition came after his disgraceful and inflammatory comments about women and gay people.
“An excellent boxer Tyson Fury may be, however his extremely callous and erroneous remarks about our community make him an unworthy candidate to be recognised among the UK’s excellent sporting personalities and ambassador.”
Fury has faced a barrage of criticism over his personal views since his victory over Ukranian Wladimir Klitschko to win the WBA, IBF and WBO belts in Dusseldorf last month.
Some 130,000 people had signed a petition calling for the BBC to remove the controversial fighter from its shortlist after allegedly homophobic and sexist comments.
Eighteen-year-old Aoife Dowds-Gibson said she felt compelled to take a stand.
She said: “I am disgusted by Tyson Fury’s words and I don’t think he should have been included in a personality award.”
The protesters were also joined by Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who said he stood in solidarity with them but stopped short of saying the BBC should have excluded the boxer.
Mr McGuinness said: “We believe that the remarks that were made by Tyson Fury were disgraceful, they were appalling, they were misogynistic, they were homophobic and they have no place in a modern society. I think those remarks should be withdrawn.
“Apart from that, hopefully it is going to be a great night.
“I am someone who was the subject of an attempt made by the Thatcher administration to put pressure on the BBC to not show a programme that I participated in, so I don’t think as a politician that I should dictate to broadcasters what should be on the airwaves or not.
“But I do think it is very important whenever we hear the sort of remarks that are made that we roundly condemn the remarks as ridiculous and out-of-date sentiments that they express.”
As he arrived on the red carpet amid a flurry of camera flashes, Fury declined to give any interviews.
Courtney Robinson, from Fight4Equality, said: “In Tyson Fury’s neandathal world view, women are merely objects designed to entertain and serve men.
“He thinks our bodies are simply vessels for reproduction and we shouldn’t be allowed to choose for ourselves whether or not we want to have children.
“It is disgraceful that the BBC has allowed him to be nominated for Sports Personality of the Year. His personality is obnoxious and he should not be feted as a role model for young people.”
Ruth McCarthy said: “I don’t think it is okay for a personality award to go to somebody who says things that are very damaging to gay people and to women. In this day and age, I just don’t think it is appropriate.
“It is coming up to Christmas and there are people who won’t be going home for Christmas because they are estranged from their families because homophobia has been perpetuated. The BBC should really be ashamed of themselves for this.”
Gabby Logan, one of the three hosts for the show, said it was right for Fury’s sporting achievement to be recognised, but said she would be “disappointed” if he won.