Europe

Neil Francis apologises for saying gay people have 'no interest' in sport

A former Ireland rugby player has apologised for suggesting that gay people have "no interest" in sport.

Neil Francis told Irish radio station Newstalk on Sunday that the nature of professional sport meant gay people had less interest in it.

He said he was entitled to his opinion and did not think he was generalising.

However, on Monday he told another radio station: "On reflection I would like to withdraw those comments and apologise profusely and unreservedly."

Mr Francis said that when he listened back to the interview, he felt it did not represent what he believed.

"I realise I was in a field of landmines and I stood on one or two," he told Today FM.

"Some of the points I was trying to make were clumsily made, and my language and the analogies I was trying to make were quite poor and poorly expressed."

Hairdressing

In his initial interview with Newstalk's Off the Ball programme, he said: "If you've ever sat down with homosexual people and asked them what their interests are, very often they have no interest in any kind of sport.

"That's my experience from sitting down with them, I've done it on a regular basis."

He also compared the number of homosexuals in professional sport with that of the hairdressing industry.

He said: "You do a survey of the hairdressing industry and find out how many heterosexuals work in that."

Mr Francis also claimed that the number of sports people who are gay did not stand at the widely estimated figure of 10%, but was actually much lower.

"How many homosexual men play professional sport? I would suspect that nowhere near 10%, I would say in the smaller margin of 1%," he said.

He also told the programme he thought rugby dressing rooms were homophobic environments.

'Naive'

Sean McAvoy, who played for Northern Ireland's first openly gay team, the Ulster Titans, called Mr Francis's comments "incredibly outdated and old-fashioned".

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme, he said that although he did not think the comments were "particularly homophobic", he said Mr Francis had made a sweeping generalisation.

"I know plenty of straight friends of mine who have no interest in sport, and similarly I know plenty of gay friends of mine who also have no interest in sport," he said.

"I think it was naive to say the least."

Mr McAvoy admitted that traditionally, the professional sporting environment has not been "a particularly gay-friendly arena", but acknowledged that attitudes toward homosexuality within the professional sporting environment are changing.

He said: "The fact is, today's generation of players in sports across the board, they don't really care anymore whether you're gay, straight or bisexual.

"It's much less of an issue."

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