About 40 people staged a protest outside the SSE Arena in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast on Sunday evening against the inclusion of heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.
Fury, who secured the heavyweight title by defeating Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko last month was one of 12 contenders for the BBC sports star of the year awards which this year were held in Belfast.
The boxer however has come under criticism for his remarks about women and for appearing to equate homosexuality with paedophilia.
A number of gay rights groups – the Rainbow Project, Cara-Friend, HEReNI and Fight4Equality – protested outside the arena as the event was taking place.
John O’Doherty, director of the Rainbow Project said he was disappointed that the BBC refused to remove Fury from the shortlist of nominees.
“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 ambassadors,” he said.
Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who attended the awards took time to speak to the protesters and to express his “solidarity” with them. He said Fury had made “disgraceful” remarks but he did not feel he should call for him to be excluded from the awards.
“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,” he said.
“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very important whenever we hear the sort of remarks that are made that we roundly condemn the remarks as ridiculous and out-of-date sentiments that they express,” added Mr McGuinness.
Fury declined to be interviewed on his way into the venue. However, he recently insisted he was not “sexist” and also said: “Tyson Fury loves his fellow humans. He doesn’t hate anybody.”
More than 139,000 people signed an online petition calling for Fury to be excluded from the competition. The BBC defended his inclusion, saying that as heavyweight boxing champion he could hardly be kept out of the contest.