Former Ireland international Neil Francis has been sacked from his role as a pundit with the Irish Independent following a comment he made about British and Irish Lions fly-half Marcus Smith.
Francis, working on the newspaper’s The Left Wing podcast, made an apparently racist remark about Smith, who is of mixed British and Filipino heritage and was born in Manila.
“A Harlequins out-half with a David Beckham haircut and an Oompa Loompa tan…you just couldn’t throw him in,” said Francis, who won 36 caps for Ireland from 1987-1996.
He has since apologised, insisting his words had been “interpreted differently” to how he intended.
Harlequins hit out at Francis in a strong-worded statement, 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 Lions also complained about the comment, while former Quins star Ugo Monye, the ex-Lions and England wing, added on Twitter: “The fact Neil Francis said what he did is appalling, but to publish it & no one challenge him is as equally appalling.”
Mediahuis Ireland, the publisher of the Irish Independent, subsequently cut ties with Francis.
“Neil Francis’s remarks were unacceptable and he has apologised for them,” a Mediahuis Ireland spokesperson was quoted as saying in an article on the newspaper’s website.
“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.”
On his comment, Francis said in the same article: “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.”