LONDON (Reuters) - New world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury turned to divine inspiration on Wednesday to answer his growing number of critics after days of courting controversy over his comments about women and homosexuality.
The 27-year-old Briton, who produced one of sport's biggest shocks last month when he beat long-standing world champion Wladimir Klitschko, has been causing even more upsets out of the ring since then with his pronouncements on homosexuality, women, and fellow athletes. [n:L8N13X43F]
The furor was triggered by a newspaper interview, in which he said three things needed to happen "before the devil comes home" -- the legalization of homosexuality, abortion and pedophilia.
Subsequent interviews, in which he attempted to clarify his comments, have attracted further criticism, and despite denying he hated gays "or anybody", the rumpus created by his remarks has led to demands that he be removed from the shortlist for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) award, a prestigious annual honor bestowed on one of Britain's top sporting figures.
An online petition calling for his removal has attracted more than 125,000 signatures.
Even within his sport, he cannot escape controversy: he has already lost one of the three world titles he won because he agreed to a rematch against Klitschko, to which he was contractually bound, rather than fighting the International Boxing Federation's mandatory challenger.
When asked on Wednesday about the controversy over his comments, the born-again Christian responded to every question with a religious phrase.
"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you'll be saved," he repeatedly told a BBC reporter.
"Jesus loves me and he loves you too ... and he loves everybody in the world," he added, smiling, as he leant out of the window of a van. "All you've got to do is repent of your sins and you'll be forgiven."
Asked if he thought he could win the SPOTY award, his answer was: "John 3:16, for God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son. Whoever believes in him shall have eternal life and shall not perish. The only way is through Jesus into heaven, that's all I can say."
Another nominee for the SPOTY award, Greg Rutherford, said on Wednesday he had spoken to the BBC about sharing a stage with someone whose views were "so strongly against my own" but rejected reports that he was pulling out of the ceremony on Dec. 20.
"I have been in discussions with the BBC regarding my involvement with SPOTY after hearing what I believe to be very outdated and derogatory comments from a fellow SPOTY nominee," he said in a statement to the BBC.
Reporting by Michael Holden,; Editing by Neville Dalton