Philippine boxing great Manny Pacquiao doubled down Friday over gay slurs that have tarnished his reputation and cost him millions in endorsements, insisting God was on his side.
The eight-division world champion smiled and joked through a training session in his hometown of General Santos, then told reporters he had no intention of bowing to his critics.
“What I am saying is right. I mean I am just stating the truth, what the Bible says,” said Pacquiao, 37.
Pacquiao, who converted from Catholicism to an evangelical Protestant faith late in his boxing career, ignited a global controversy this week when he described homosexuals as worse than animals.
“It’s common sense. Do you see animals mating with the same sex? Animals are better because they can distinguish male from female,” Pacquiao told Filipino television station TV5.
“If men mate with men and women mate with women, they are worse than animals.”
An even more incendiary quote from the Bible was posted on his Instagram account early Thursday.
The quote read: “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads”.
The post was quickly deleted, but not before local media outlet ABS-CBN captured and published a screen shot.
A Pacquiao aide in General Santos confirmed the post went on his Instagram account.
Pacquiao issued an apology on social media on Tuesday, shortly after the initial controversy broke.
But Pacquiao, who intends to retire after his April fight against American Timothy Bradley to pursue a career in politics, signalled Friday his apology was qualified.
“What I did wrong was just comparing the people to animals, but you know what I am telling is the truth,” he told reporters.
“I mean I am just telling what the Bible says. We believe God and then we should honour the word of God.”
– ‘Happy with God on my side’ –
Pacquiao also said he was unfussed by the controversy, and that it had not affected his training or dampened his morale.
“I’m happy. I’m always happy because God is with me,” he said.
One of Pacquiao’s media handlers told reporters at the training session on Friday that they were not allowed to ask him any questions about the controversy.
However Pacquiao appeared eager to show he remained firm in his religious convictions, and happily accepted questions on the controversy.
Nike, Pacquiao’s major global sponsor, cancelled its endorsement deal with him this week, describing his comments as “abhorrent”.
“Nike strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting and standing up for the rights of the LGBT community… we no longer have a relationship with Manny Pacquiao,” the statement said.
Pacquiao, one of the world’s highest paid athletes for more than a decade, continued to wear his Nike apparel at Friday’s training session.
Many prominent figures in the United States, where same-sex marriage is enshrined in law, also expressed revulsion this week.
Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in the NBA, dismissed Pacquiao as “bigoted”.
“I lost all respect for you,” Collins wrote on Twitter. “Bigoted people like you (& yes you are one) should never hold an office in politics.”
Pacquiao’s long-time rival, Floyd Mayweather — who outclassed the Filipino in their money-spinning mega-fight last year — also took aim at the remarks.
“We should let people live their lives the way they want to live their lives. To each his own,” Mayweather was quoted by TMZ Sports as saying.
While homosexuality is not criminalised in the Philippines, gay marriage is outlawed due to strong opposition from the Catholic Church.
Eighty percent of the Philippines’ 100 million people are Catholics.
The controversy has dominated the local media, and gay rights campaigners have expressed outrage.
However Philippine companies that sponsor him or had previous endorsement deals were in no rush to follow Nike’s lead, with none publicly expressing concern this week.
Pacquiao, a former street kid with little education, has used his fame and fortune to launch a promising political career.
Already a two-term congressman, Pacquiao is campaigning to win a Senate seat in May elections. Surveys published before the controversy indicated he will win.
Pacquiao has said he wants to be president of the Philippines.