Northern Ireland news

Ex-player and rugby pundit sacked from newspaper over 'racist' podcast remarks

The British & Irish Lions' huddle during the captains run at the Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa. Picture by Steve Haag/PA Wire
Paul Ainsworth

FORMER Irish rugby international Neil Francis has been sacked by the Irish Independent newspaper over comments made on a podcast about British and Irish Lions star Marcus Smith.

Dublin-born Francis, who played as an Irish lock forward until retiring in 1996, was speaking on the Irish Independent's The Left Wing rugby podcast when he referred to Filipino-born Smith's "oompa loompa tan".

The reference to characters from the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was later removed from the podcast, and the comments by 57-year-old Francis were described as offensive by both the Lions squad and Smith's rugby Premiership rugby team Harlequins.

A statement from Middlesex-based Harlequins said: "Harlequins is disgusted by racist comments made by columnist Neil Francis, adding: "The club firmly believes that there is no room for racism in any part of society, let alone professional sport."

In a weekend statement, Irish Independent publisher Mediahuis Ireland described Francis's remarks as "unacceptable", adding: "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."

In an Irish Independent article about his departure as a pundit, Francis said: "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."

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