Former Irish international Neil Francis has been sacked from his role as an expert with the Irish Independent following a comment he made about British and Irish opener Marcus Smith.
Francis, working on the newspaper’s The Left Wing podcast, made an apparently racist remark about Smith, who is of British and Filipino descent and was born in Manila.
“One half of the Harlequins with a David Beckham haircut and an Oompa Loompa tan… you just couldn’t throw it away,” said Francis, who won 36 caps for Ireland from 1987 to 1996.
He has since apologized, insisting his words were “interpreted differently” from what he intended to do.
Harlequins lashed out at Francis in a strong statement, saying: “Harlequins is disgusted by the racist comments of Independent.ie columnist Neil Francis on the newspaper’s rugby podcast, The Left Wing, about the Harlequins, the England and British and Irish Lions. half of Marcus Smith on July 14.
“The club firmly believe 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, ex-Lions and England wing, added on Twitter: “The fact that Neil Francis said this that he did is appalling, but publishing it and nobody defies it is also just as appalling.
Mediahuis Ireland, publisher of the Irish Independent, subsequently cut ties with Francis.
“Neil Francis’ remarks were unacceptable and he apologized for it,” a Mediahuis Ireland spokesperson said in an article on the newspaper’s website.
“The comments were originally posted on the podcast last week, but were later deleted by our production team shortly thereafter. This should have happened before its release and we apologize for the error.
“We recognize that Mr. Francis says his comments were unintentional, but we have decided to end our relationship with him and he will no longer be writing columns or contributing to our podcasts.”
Of his comment, Francis said in the same post: “I was, I guess, commenting on how the backs in particular turn out when they come into the field.
“At all stages, that’s what I meant by these comments.”
He added, “I would never intentionally or willfully make a comment to disparage someone on the basis of someone’s skin color. Never! The comments were interpreted differently from what I wanted and I sincerely apologize for that.
“I apologize for any infractions by the player and his family. I intend to apologize directly to him shortly if he agrees. I also apologize to anyone who were also offended by what I said.