Media pundit and former international rugby player Neil Francis has been sacked by Irish Independent publisher Mediahuis Ireland after he made offensive comments on a podcast about Harlequins, England and Lions fly-half Marcus Smith.
Francis’s comments were met with fierce disapproval on social media platforms and also drew the ire of both the British & Irish Lions and Harlequins, whom Smith, 20, helped guide to the English Premiership title late last month before earning a call-up to the tour in South Africa, where he made an impressive debut against the Stormers last Saturday.
Smith, whose mother is Filipina, was referred to by Mr Francis on the Left Wing podcast as having a “David Beckham haircut and an Oompa Loompa tan”.
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."
Apologising for the comments, 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.
He also offered to apologise to Smith directly "if he is agreeable".
Responding to the comments before the apology, a Lions spokesperson said: "We find the remarks offensive and have written to the Independent to express our deep dissatisfaction.”
A Quins statement said: “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."