Sport and Morality

I don’t often read about sport, so the topic seldom features here, but the world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury has been causing a lot of concern with his racist and homophobic opinions. This is from the i a week ago:

Tyson Fury should be suspended from boxing and stripped of his world titles, because his anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist comments are “starting to sound like Adolf Hitler”.

That is the opinion of Wladimir Klitschko, ahead of the pair’s world heavyweight title rematch at the Manchester Arena on 9 July….

Klitschko says the undefeated 27-year old has brought boxing into disrepute. “I’m fighting a guy who can’t hold his mouth on certain things,” said the 40 year-old …

“I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community and when he got tot the Jewish people he sounded like Adolf Hitler. The man is an imbecile. Seriously.

“You cannot put it all together as a representation of the sport of boxing.He’s an imbecile champion. It puts the world of boxing in the wrong spot. He represents not just himself, but the sanctioning bodies, a lo of boxing fans in general. It’s not just about him  and he needs to understand that – but he obviously doesn’t given all the stupidity that comes out of his mouth.”

Klitschko sys the views of Fury have given him extra motivation to win back his WBA and WBO belts next month but believes the sanctioning bodies should be taking action.

He added: “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to shut up or shut down in the ring, or just suspended, because you cannot create more hate. Especially in this crazy world when we can see all that’s going on, we don’t need someone having the state and bringing hat to Jewish people. I cannot accept it. ….It’s not just British fans I’ll be doing a favour when I beat him…

This brings up all sorts of difficult issues for me. I believe in free speech, so my first instinct is that he is entitled to his opinions. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Fury is from a much persecuted Irish traveller community, and drew criticism for his views when nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award last year.

That said, as a public figure, his views are read far beyond his immediate circle, so you could argue he is promoting these offensive, ignorant views. By airing such views he is also suggesting they are held by his community, which may attract more antagonism towards them, so whatever positive is gained from his fame may be negated by his opinions.

Sports personalities are often claimed to be role models, so just as they may inspire kids to play sport, in this case, they may also be inspired to accept his views.  His views do reflect poorly on a sport that is generally assumed to attract the less intelligent, and increasingly to be the cause of brain damage to those involved.

I guess it’s complicated, balancing the desire for free speech against the dangers of inciting hatred.

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