Daley Thompson (Credit: PA)

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, anti Irish sentiment in Britain ran high, linked to the IRA campaign in Britain.

It was a very tough time to be Irish there. I worked for close to a year in London in the 1970s and anti-Irish jokes, a steady stream of comedians on TV indicting us as stupid and lazy and a constant sense of being under suspicion when an Irish accent was heard, was part of everyday life.

Those bad old days, post peace process, are gone – but there has been an unwelcome echo of the old days these past few days – and from a very surprising source.

Daley Thompson is roughly the British equivalent of Magic Johnson, a widely adored and respected former athlete who accomplished amazing feats and has had a successful post- sporting career.

He has been honored three times by the Queen and is an official ambassador for the London Olympics. It has long been rumored he will light the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony.

Thompson is also black and he won Olympic gold at two different Olympics. In a country starved of top class athletes, that made him a superstar. The fact that he won them at the decathlon event, one of the toughest events at the games, made his achievement all the greater.

So it is deeply surprising that Thompson jeopardized all that goodwill with the type of racial stereotype that he, a black person, above all, should have been wary of.

Daley, 53, made his screw up on live TV on BBC when he was shown a photograph of a torchbearer with the words ‘OYLMPIC torch bearer’ (sic) tattooed onto her arm.

Images of the miss-spelt tattoo have gone global on the Internet but Thompson took an anti-Irish stance when he commented on the photo and said: “The tattooist must have been Irish.”

Jenny McShannon, chief executive of the Federation of Irish Societies, stated the comment was "unnecessary and totally out of keeping with the spirit of the Olympics."

The BBC issued an official apology and stated, "Daley's comments about this were clearly meant as a joke but we apologize if any offence was caused, it certainly wasn't our intention."

It may cost Thompson the opportunity to light the Olympic torch according to some reports. While that may seem an over reaction to some, Thompson, son of a Nigerian father and Scottish mother, really needs to class up his act if he is chosen for such a role.

Compared to legends like Muhammad Ali, who has lit the flame in the past, he has a very long way to go indeed.