Some suggest that Tyson Fury is bad for boxing, but he may be doing his community a greater disservice than his sport.
The 2010 All Ireland Traveller Health Study showed that the general travelling population in Ireland has the same life expectancy as the general population had in the 1940’s. The gap in life expectancy between Traveller males and their settled counterparts has risen from ten years in 1987 to fifteen years in 2010.
A year after that first study was published; Tyson Fury was born in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester to Irish Traveller parents from Galway. Given the declining standard of living within the travelling community and the widening gap between them and the settled community, Fury’s life, thus far, has unfolded in the sphere of deprivation and ostracism.
Fury isn’t shy to speak out about his heritage and his faith; in fact, Fury isn’t shy to speak out about much.
He finds himself in a rather new position for someone of his ethnicity, there have only been three world boxing champions from the Travelling Community and the first of them only came in December 2014.
Andy Lee was the first, a relative of Fury’s, and the other was Billy Joe Saunders, who defeated Lee to claim the WBO middleweight title. Apart from a handful of Olympians, Travellers rarely if ever find themselves in the limelight, and even rarer still, find themselves being supported and cheered on by the settled community.
This unique position for Fury, both within the Travelling community and society at large gives him the platform to change and challenge how the settled community perceive Travellers. It is unfortunate therefore, that Fury has not only failed to do this but has perpetuated and reinforced some of the biggest challenges facing Travellers in society.
A major criticism often aimed at the Travelling community is that of the position of women. Freedom from oppression and discrimination, as well as equality must be at the forefront of any society; they are among the most basic of human rights. Fury’s comments concerning “the place of women” are therefore unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst.
“I believe a woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back. That’s my personal belief. Making me a good cup of tea, that’s what I believe,” said Fury in an interview.
The power dynamic within the travelling community is clear. A report by the National Traveller Women’s Forum highlights the inequality suffered by Traveller women who do not have access to “decision making authority” within their families. Furthermore, the same report states that “a disproportionate number of Traveller women use refuge accommodation” and that domestic violence is “a part of the real life experience of many Traveller women”. The NTWF admits that Fury’s comments are not out of line with many men within the Travelling community, however, Fury must bear the burden of responsibility to challenge the attitude when “that culture is used as justification or camouflage for the oppression of women within their community”.
The 2011 census reported the Traveller population in Ireland to be 29, 573. The Traveller rights group Pavee Point estimates the number of LGBT Travellers to be around 4,000. The difficulties faced by LGBT Travellers are rooted, not just in discrimination and acceptance in the wider community, but also in their own ambitions. Marriage and children are two pillars of Traveller culture and the acceptance by both LGBT Travellers, as well as their parents, that marriage and children may not be possible is among the greatest difficulties.
“There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is paedophilia,” Fury told Oliver Holt of the Daily Mail back in November of 2015.
These comments by Fury, aligning abortion and homosexuality with paedophilia, may be rooted more in his Pentecostal Christian beliefs than Traveller culture. Evangelical Christianity has become more and more popular within the Travelling community as they turn their backs on more traditional churches.
The Mental Health Forum in Ireland draws attention to the “entrenched traditional male and female roles” within the Travelling community that contribute to the non-acceptance of LGBT individuals.
“Being a gay Traveller was reported to risk double jeopardy sometimes as it was both difficult to come out gay in the Traveller community and difficult to declare a Traveller identity in the gay community. Being a lesbian might be considered a triple jeopardy”.
Fury’s comments certainly do not encourage young LGBT individuals anywhere, but particularly not in the traveling community. The highest rates of suicide among social groups occur in young men, LGBT and Travellers. The rate of death due to suicide is seven times higher in Traveller men than among settled men.
This is not to suggest, unlike UK shadow cabinet minister Chris Bryant, that Fury is “fuelling gay suicides” or fuelling suicides in general, but rather he is perpetuating the problem that many LGBT Travellers and young people face.
Following his defeat of Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight championship of the world, Fury came under scrutiny for his showboating, antics and trash talking. This is part of Fury’s own self-promotion, something which he has done incredibly well. The issues lie deeper than his loud mouth and abrasive style. Fury finds himself in a position unique to Travellers, he has a voice and a platform. He has the opportunity to change stereotypes and perceptions, in the process instituting real change.
Fury isn’t bad for boxing, he’s just bad for a whole lot else.