Rugby Star Neil Francis Sacked After Racist Remark About Lions Player

by : Emily Brown on : 24 Jul 2021 13:01
Rugby Star Neil Francis Sacked After Racist Remark About Lions PlayerPA Images

Ireland rugby star Neil Francis has been fired by the Irish Independent newspaper after he made apparently racist comments about British and Irish Lions player Marcus Smith. 

Francis prompted backlash after speaking about Smith, who was born in the Philippines and is of mixed British and Filipino heritage, while on the newspaper’s rugby podcast The Left Wing.


Mediahuis Ireland, which publishes the Irish Independent, explained in a statement that the comments were removed from the podcast by its production team shortly after its release last week, but that ‘this should have happened before it was released’.

Neil Francis (PA Images)PA Images

On the podcast, Francis said of Smith: ‘A Harlequins out-half with a David Beckham haircut and an Oompa Loompa tan… you just couldn’t throw him in.’

The former Ireland international rugby player has since apologised, insisting that his words have been ‘interpreted differently’ to how he meant them, but they still prompted a scathing statement from Smith’s club, Premiership champions Harlequins, which said it was ‘disgusted’ by the comments.


Per Sky News, the statement read:

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.

Meanwhile, former Harlequins player and Lions tourist Ugo Monye said: ‘The fact Neil Francis said what he did is appalling, but to publish it & no one challenge him is as equally appalling.’


In an article addressing his comments, Francis wrote: ‘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.’

He went on to claim that he would ‘never intentionally or wilfully make a comment to disparage somebody on the basis of the colour of anyone’s skin’, adding that he ‘apologise[d] sincerely’ that the comments had been interpreted differently to what he had intended.

Marcus Smith (PA Images)PA Images

He added: ‘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.’


In the wake of Francis’s comments, Mediahuis Ireland parted ways with Francis and described his remarks as ‘unacceptable’.

They apologised for the error of not removing his comments before the podcast was released, and said that while they acknowledge Francis’s argument that his words about Smith were ‘inadvertent’, they had decided to end their relationship with the rugby player, adding: ‘He will no longer write columns or contribute to our podcasts.’

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact Stop Hate UK by visiting their website www.stophateuk.org/talk

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: News, no-article-matching, Racism, Rugby


Sky News
  1. Sky News

    Rugby pundit Neil Francis sacked by Irish paper after 'racist' remark aimed at Lions star Marcus Smith