International sports network ESPN has issued a qualified apology after one of its presenters, Australian Russell Barwick engaged in an on-air rant about Irish athletes competing for Britain.
His remarks, on the show Pardon The Interruption, prompted a furious reaction on-line.
His employer, ESPN, said that Barwick had “been made aware that his comments have lead (sic) to concern amongst some viewers. He was very contrite and seriously regrets any offence that has been caused.”
The remarks were prompted it seems by an Irish athlete who told reporters that competing at the London Games was “almost like a home crowd.”
The presenter then launched into a tirade about why athletes from the Republic Of Ireland do not compete for Great Britain.
“It’s like an Hawaiian surfer not surfing for the USA,” he said. “It’s not like Tasmanians say they don’t want to represent Australia.”
“Team GB has an enormous advantage over everyone else in the world because it’s four countries basically wrapped up into one,” Barwick told presenter Mark Chapman, “that’s including the Isle of Man, Bermuda, the Falkland Islands and anywhere else they’ve taken over in the past 100 years.
“So why doesn’t the Republic of Ireland join up, given the fact that at the world cup of rugby, cricket and few other sports they all join up. And the reason I ask is there was a Republic of Ireland girl running today and she said it felt like a home crowd. And I’m thinking, well why isn’t it a home crowd?”
He continued: “They kiss and make up for the British Lions, they kiss and make up for the Six Nations. We, the rest of the world, can’t understand… it’s like a Hawaiian surfer not surfing for the USA. It’s not like Tasmanians say they don’t want to represent Australia.”
When fellow-presenter Mark Chapman tried to explain that the Republic of Ireland was actually a different country, Barwick remarked: “It’s nothing but an Irish joke”.
The presenter was hammered on social media for his comments and eventually deleted his Twitter feed.
The Irish Echo asked ESPN if the comments met the standards of the network and how someone so apparently ignorant of the facts was given the opportunity to commentate on the London Olympics.
In an emailed reply, a spokeswoman said: “PTI is a program that is designed to generate discussion and debate. We appreciate viewers may have different points of view to those expressed by the hosts. To that end, Russell Barwick apologises for any personal offence these comments may have caused.”
“Russell has been a broadcaster of the highest standing for well over a decade.
“He will be issuing a personal apology on the program when it next goes to air.”
Barwick’s fellow presenter March Chapman was clearly unnerved by the exchange and described it later on Twitter as “a shambles”.
“Won’t be doing it again,” he tweeted. “You live and learn.”
You can view the video clip here. Fast forward to four minutes in.