Neil Francis has been sacked by the Irish Independent's owners Mediahuis for comments he made regarding Lions out-half Marcus Smith.
Mediahuis described the former Ireland forward's comments as "unacceptable", and Francis himself has issued an apology.
During an episode of The Left Wing podcast with Luke Fitzgerald, Francis described Smith as "a Harlequins out-half with a David Beckham haircut, and an Oompa Loompa tan". Francis punctuates his remark with a wry laugh.
The Harlequins and England number 10 was born in the Philippines to an English father and Filipina mother.
Lions' Head of Communications Tim Percival, tweeted, "We find the remarks relating to Marcus Smith offensive and have written to the Independent to express our deep dissatisfaction."
Former 'Quins back Ugo Monye has also added his criticism, adding, "The fact Neil Francis said what he did is appalling, but to publish it & no one challenge him is as equally appalling."
The fact Neil Francis said what he did is appalling, but to publish it & no one challenge him is as equally appalling. https://t.co/7idgTqoRdm
— Ugo Monye (@ugomonye) July 23, 2021
Harlequins released their own statement on Friday evening, adding:
Harlequins is disgusted by racist comments made by Independent.ie columnist Neil Francis on the publication's rugby podcast, The Left Wing, on July 14 about Harlequins, England, and British and Irish Lions fly-half Marcus Smith.
The Club firmly believes that there is no room for racism in any part of society, let alone professional sport.
Harlequins await a written reply from The Independent.ie regarding this matter.
In his apology, Francis wrote:
During a podcast for The Left Wing recorded on Wednesday the 14th of 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.”
Mediahuis added, "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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