A former top Irish rugby player has hit the headlines after claiming gay people have no interest in sport or the professional sporting environment.

Neil Francis, now a successful television and newspaper pundit, has also said that rugby dressing-rooms are homophobic.

His comments, originally made in an interview with Newstalk radio, have been reproduced on the website of Irish state broadcaster RTE.

Francis said in the interview that the percentage of gay people in professional sport was lower than in the general population.

And he questioned the motivation of American Football player Michael Sam who came out as gay ahead of the NFL draft.

He said: “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.

“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?”

Francis also suggested that the nature of professional sport means that gay people have less interest in it. He contrasted it to the hair-dressing industry.

The noted Ireland forward added: “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.

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

“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 also said that rugby dressing-rooms are homophobic environments.

Asked if his comments could 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. I don’t have an interest in ballet.”

Saying his comments were based on 50 to 100 people he knows, Francis added: “I don’t think I’m generalising. I really don’t. Again, I’m entitled to my opinion.

“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.”