Former Ireland international rugby player Neil Francis has been sacked as a pundit by the Irish Independent after making a seemingly racist comment about Lions star Marcus Smith.
While speaking on the newspaper’s The Left Wing rugby podcast, Francis said of Smith, who is of mixed British and Filipino heritage: “A Harlequins out-half with a David Beckham haircut and an Oompa Loompa tan… you just couldn’t throw him in.”
Francis has since apologised to the Manila-born fly half, insisting his words have been “interpreted differently” to how he meant them.
Neil Francis played for Ireland in the 80s and 90s. Pic: Action Images/Reuters
Smith’s club, Premiership champions Harlequins, quickly released a scathing statement in response to the former Ireland player’s comments, saying: “Harlequins is disgusted by racist comments made by Independent.ie columnist Neil Francis on the paper’s rugby podcast, The Left Wing, about Harlequins, England and British and Irish Lions fly-half Marcus Smith on July 14.
“The club firmly believes that there is no room for racism in any part of society, let alone professional sport.”
The British and Irish Lions, who will play South Africa in the first tour test on Saturday, also made its feelings clear about the comment, while former Quins player and Lions tourist Ugo Monye said: “The fact Neil Francis said what he did is appalling, but to publish it & no one challenge him is as equally appalling.”
As a result of his comments, Mediahuis Ireland, which publishes the Irish Independent, has parted ways with Francis, saying in an article: “Neil Francis’s remarks were unacceptable and he has apologised for them.
“The comments were initially released in the podcast last week but were subsequently removed by our production team a short time later. This should have happened before it was released and we apologise for the error.
“We acknowledge that Mr Francis says his comments were inadvertent, but we have decided to end our relationship with him and he will no longer write columns or contribute to our podcasts.”
The Lions will play South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday
In the same article, Francis wrote: “I was, I suppose, making comment on how backs in particular turn out when they enter the field.
“At all stages this is what I meant by those comments.”
He added: “I would never intentionally or wilfully make a comment to disparage somebody on the basis of the colour of anyone’s skin. Never! The comments have been interpreted differently from what I intended and I apologise sincerely for that.
“I fully apologise for any offence taken by the player and his family. I intend to apologise directly to him shortly if he is agreeable. I also apologise to anyone who also took offence to what I said.”