Sean "Diddy" Combs on the red carpet at the 65th Cannes Film Festival. Photo: Reuters

The son of rap impresario Sean “Diddy” Combs is embroiled in a firestorm for accepting a football scholarship from the University of California, Los Angeles, that critics say should go to a more needy student, but the 18-year-old cornerback says he earned the award.

Justin Dior Combs, whose father topped a Forbes list of hip hop’s wealthiest this year with a net worth estimated at $550 million (R4 723m), comes to the California school from the private Catholic Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle, New York.

His scholarship to attend the university and play on the football team would provide $54 000 a year toward his education, with that money coming from what the athletic programme generated, not from taxpayers, the school said.

UCLA said that unlike need-based scholarships for academics, the school’s sports scholarships are awarded strictly on the basis of athletic ability. “Athletic scholarships do not rely on state funds,” UCLA said.