Irish pundit sacked for 'racist' comment about B&I Lions flyhalf
REACTION: Harlequins have said that they are “disgusted by racist comments” made about flyhalf Marcus Smith during a recent rugby podcast discussing the British and Irish Lions tour.
The remarks in question were made by former Ireland lock Neil Francis during Irish Independent’s popular Left Wing podcast, hosted by Luke Fitzgerald.
Francis has since been sacked by the Irish Independent’s publisher over the comments.
Smith, who is of mixed Filipino and British heritage, recently flew out to South Africa as injury cover for Finn Russell and could yet play a role in the Test series.
The panel were discussing the merits of Smith potentially being involved in the Test series and the typically outspoken Francis was asked to give his opinion on the matter.
“I don’t think they could throw him in,” said Francis. “A Harlequins outhalf [flyhalf] with a David Beckham haircut and an Oompa Loompa tan… you just couldn’t throw him in.”
The comments have been heavily criticised on social media on Friday, with many on Twitter accusing Francis of racism, although it’s not clear that the former forward was aware of Smith’s mixed-race heritage.
Both Harlequins and the Lions have publically stated that they’ve contacted the newspaper over the comments.
“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 flyhalf Marcus Smith on July 14,” said a statement from the club
“The club firmly believes that there is no room for racism in any part of society, let alone professional sport.”
Tim Percival, spokesperson for the British & Irish Lions, Tweeted: “We find the remarks relating to Marcus Smith offensive and have written to the Independent to express our deep dissatisfaction.”
England wing Joe Cokanasiga tweeted: “Oompa Loompa tan” ???!! Idiot”
Smith, who was born in Manila, won his first England cap against the USA two weeks ago and has been enjoying a stellar season with Harlequins, guiding the club to their first Premiership title since 2012.
Mediahuis Ireland, the publisher of Independent.ie, confirmed that Francis’s contract has been terminated.
A spokesperson for Mediahuis Ireland said: “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.”
A statement from Neil Francis said: “During a podcast for The Left Wing recorded on Wednesday the 14th of July I made comments about the Harlequins and England outhalf Marcus Smith where I stated that he had ‘a David Beckham hair style and an Oompa Loompa tan’.
“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.
“Marcus Smith is of English/ Filipino heritage and some of the media comments at the moment have made mention that I have racially abused the player.
“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.”
@Harlequins & @RugbyPass
additional reporting PA