Neil Francis apologises over remarks on gay people and sports

‘I said the wrong things and some of the things I said were extremely clumsy’

Neil Francis was speaking alongside rugby referee Nigel Owens  on Today FM’s The Last Word. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Neil Francis was speaking alongside rugby referee Nigel Owens on Today FM’s The Last Word. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Tue, Feb 18, 2014, 06:27

Neil Francis has offered an unreserved apology for comments he made on Sunday, when he claimed that gay people were “not interested in sports”.

The former rugby international made a number of comments on Newstalk’s Off The Ball show with regard to homosexuality in sport that caused huge offence.

He took up an offer from Matt Cooper to go on his Today FM show The Last Word along with Welsh referee Nigel Owens, who came out as gay in 2005, initially to family and friends and then to the wider rugby community in 2007, prior to the Rugby World Cup.

Owens had been critical of Francis’ comments earlier in the day when talking on the Pat Kenny Show but was invited to address the former international second row directly.

Francis, when asked his position 24 hours after his initial comments, explained: “When I got home I had a listen to the interview again. And I must say it didn’t sound like me at all in a sense.

“A lot of people who listened to it said that’s not your form. I realise that I was in a field of landmines and I stood on one or two.

“Some of the points that I was trying to make were very clumsily made and my language and the analogies I was trying to make were quite poor and quite poorly expressed. It’s unusual for me not to be able to articulate myself but in this instance I was unable to do so.

“Listening to what I said last night ... okay on reflection, I said the wrong things and some of the things I said were extremely clumsy. In this instance and on reflection I would like to withdraw those comments and apologise profusely and unreservedly on any issue that might have served with anybody who heard them or who felt offence with what I said.”

Cooper then asked Owens what he thought of the sentiments expressed by Francis to which the Welshman responded: “It’s good that he has been able to go back and reflect on what he said. We all make mistakes in our lives.

“I certainly hope that Neil’s apologies are genuine and from the heart and not something that he is saying now that he is being sort of pressurised with all the outpouring from all walks of life, Irish players, Welsh players; people all over Twitter and stuff over the last 24 hours and Facebook have been condemning his words. If his apologies are genuine then it is good to hear that he is apologising.”

Cooper than asked Francis whether his apology had indeed being genuine, to which the latter replied: “People know who I am and that I say what I mean. I don’t think there is any point in saying this unless I meant it.”