Rugby pundit Neil Francis has apologised unreservedly for negative comments he made in relation to gay people and sport after his remarks on Sunday attracted widespread criticism, including from gay sportsmen.
Speaking on Today FM’s Last Word programme yesterday, Mr Francis said he was “in a field of landmines” and “stood on one or two” during a Newstalk panel discussion the previous day that touched on the topic of homosexuality in sport.
“My language and the analogies I was trying to make were quite poor and quite poorly expressed,” he said. “It’s unusual for me not to be able to articulate myself, but on this occasion I was unable to do so.”
On reflection, he said, he would “like to withdraw those comments and apologise profusely and unreservedly”.
Comments that sparked the controversy included claims by Mr Francis that if 10% of the population was gay, less than 1% of professional sportsmen were. This was because the sporting environment “isn’t something they [gay men] are very interested in”, said Mr Francis.
On Sunday, in explaining his opinion, Mr Francis said that, by contrast, he did not have “an interest in ballet” and that heterosexual men tended not to be hairdressers.
“You do a survey of the hairdressing industry and find how many heterosexuals work in that” said Mr Francis. “If you have ever sat down with homosexual people and asked them what their interests are, very often they have no interest in any kind of sport.”
He also described a rugby dressing room as “a pretty homophobic environment”.
Welsh international rugby referee Nigel Owens, who came out as a gay man in 2007, welcomed Mr Francis’s apology as long as it was “genuine” and “from the heart” and not prompted by a public backlash.
He said, given Mr Francis’s stature as a former Irish rugby international and the influence he had, he had a responsibility to “think long and hard” before saying things.
While former Cork hurler Conor Cusack, who recently came out, praised Mr Francis for his honesty, he said his comments were unhelpful and inaccurate.
“In terms of saying that we are interested in ballet or that we are all interested in hairdressing, I think those comments were extremely unhelpful,” said Mr Cusack. “I think they are inaccurate, firstly, and they don’t help the cause for people that are struggling in this area.”
Mr Cusack also posted a tweet ridiculing Mr Francis’s view on gay people in sport: “Apparently people like me don’t play ‘manly’ sports so looking forward to training tomorrow night in the ‘unmanly’ sport of hurling.
Apparently people like me don't play 'manly' sports so looking forward to training tomorrow night in the 'unmanly' sport of hurling— Conor Cusack (@Conor14Cusack) February 16, 2014
11 broken bones in hands snapped cruciates 7 knee operations lips sliced in half requiring plastic surgery 6 teeth blown out #unmanlysport— Conor Cusack (@Conor14Cusack) February 16, 2014
“11 broken bones in hands snapped cruciates 7 knee operations lips sliced in half requiring plastic surgery 6 teeth blown out #unmanlysport”.
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