Former Ireland rugby international Neil Francis has suggested that gay people do not have an interest in sport and that the professional sporting environment is not something in which gay people are interested.

Speaking on Newstalk’s Off the Ball, Francis suggested that the percentage of gay people in professional sport was lower than in the general population.

Referring to US American Football player Michael Sam, who recently came out as gay, and is expected to be the first openly gay player following this year’s NFL draft, Francis questioned the motivation for Sam’s coming-out, saying: “This is a different coming-out than any other.

“I was in the States, and I was watching Missouri [Sam’s college team] play, before they got to the Cotton Bowl, and I noticed this guy because he was very flamboyant, and y’know, a bit of a showman, and a very good player. No question about that.

“And I think it was Jimi Hendrix that said, ah, y’know, talking about Janis Joplin’s death, y’know: ‘Great career move’. So, is this - what is the motivation for coming out?”

On the percentage of professional sports people who might be gay, Francis appeared to suggest that the nature of professional sport meant that gay people had less interest in it, and to contrast this with the hair-dressing industry.

“You do a survey of the hair-dressing industry and find out how many heterosexuals work in that,” Francis said.

"You do a survey of the hair-dressing industry and find out how many heterosexuals work in that"

“Professional sport, by its very nature, doesn’t promote, y’know, sort of, there are a wide range of people who are homosexual, and, that exact, the environment that they’re in isn’t something that they’re interested in.”

Francis was asked whether he believed the percentage of gay people in sport was lower than a figure of 10 per cent [a widely reported estimate of the proportion of the general population who are gay].

“How many homosexual men play professional sport?” Francis replied. “I would suspect that nowhere near 10 per cent. I would say in the smaller margin of 1 per cent.

Challenged as to whether the view was stereotypical, that because sport was manly, the percentage would be lower than 10 per cent, Francis said: “What are their interests? I mean, If you’ve ever sat down with, y’know, 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.”

Francis said that rugby dressing-rooms were homophobic environments. Challenged as to whether his comments would be labelled homophobic, Francis said: “No, it’s based on my, my practical – and it’s not a generalisation – that, y’know, in every sphere of life, and every year that you meet either a gay man or gay people in a social environment... and my, my, the way I look at, y’know, sort of, after talking to them, they have very little interest in sport. Very little.”

Of his own interests, Francis said; “I don’t have an interest in ballet.”

Asked how many people he was basing his opinions on, Francis agreed it could be 50-100 people, and said “but I don’t think I’m generalising. I really don’t. Again, I’m entitled to my opinion.”

Francis admitted: “A lot of people would sort of say, well, y’know, y’know sort of what you’ve said really is stereotyping, but y’know, I don’t care. I’m here. I’m gonna express an opinion.”

Francis said he hadn’t watched any of the Winter Olympics because he was “sick and tired of, y’know, sort of picking up, y’know angles on whether the Russians have an anti-gay policy or not. It’s about the Olympics or not, and the side issue has just put me off.”