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Irish Independent ends Neil Francis' contract after comments about Lions out-half Marcus Smith

Francis said he apologised ‘for any offence taken’, adding that he would ‘never intentionally or wilfully make a comment to disparage somebody on the basis of the colour of anyone’s skin.’

Neil Francis (L) and Lions out-half Marcus Smith (R).
Neil Francis (L) and Lions out-half Marcus Smith (R).
Image: INPHO (L)/PA Images (R)

THE IRISH INDEPENDENT newspaper has terminated the contract of rugby columnist Neil Francis following comments he made about Harlequins, England and British and Irish out-half Marcus Smith on an affiliated podcast earlier this month.

The former Ireland international this evening said he apologised “for any offence taken by the player and his family”, insisting that he would “never intentionally or wilfully make a comment to disparage somebody on the basis of the colour of anyone’s skin”, and that “the comments have been interpreted differently from what I intended”.

Francis offered to apologise directly to the player himself if Smith would permit it.

The former Ireland international was speaking on the Independent’s ‘Left Wing’ podcast on 14 July when he described Smith, who is half-Filipino, as having a “David Beckham haircut and an Oompa Loompa tan”. The comments were later edited out of the podcast but were more recently widely circulated in their original form on social media.

Both the British and Irish Lions and Harlequins criticised Francis’ remarks in separate statements released earlier today, with each organisation confirming that they had written to the Irish Independent about the matter.

Smith’s employers Harlequins said they were “disgusted” by the “racist comments”, and that “the club firmly believes that there is no room for racism in any part of society, let alone professional sport.”

Mediahuis Ireland, publisher of the Independent, has since decided to end Francis’ contract with the publication.

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.”

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Francis added: “During a podcast for ‘The Left Wing’ recorded on Wednesday 14 July I made comments about the Harlequins and England out-half 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.”

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