Kellie Harrington’s brand ‘took a punch’ – but poll shows 44pc think she was right to refuse to answer questions

Kellie Harrington accused a Newstalk interviewer of ‘hanging her out to dry’. Photo: David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE

Niamh Horan

Kellie Harrington’s image has “undoubtedly” been damaged after a video clip of the boxer refusing to respond to a question about her views on immigration went viral last week, the Dublin-based CEO of networking company Sport for Business had said.

But Rob Hartnett, who is also chairman of the Dublin City Sport and Wellbeing Partnership (DCSWP), which employs Harrington as a brand ambassador, expects the Olympic champion to bounce back quickly.

That view was seemingly strengthened by the result of a Sunday Independent/Ireland Thinks opinion poll question, with 44pc of respondents saying they thought Harrington was justified in refusing to engage with Newstalk’s Off The Ball presenter Shane Hannon, with 30pc saying she was not and 26pc unsure.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend, Hartnett said: “Has the brand been damaged? Undoubtedly. She has taken a punch to the jaw on this one but she is a boxer and sporting people know the resilience of being able to come back.

“We know Kellie for who she is and what she does. People are reading this on Sunday morning and Kellie will have turned up for work in St Vincent’s Hospital. I was talking to people who were talking to her and [they said] she was very upset. When people are critical of you in a kneejerk way — without any thought of the impact it might have on your mental health — that can be really hard. She has been through the mill.”

Sports for Business connects brands with Irish sporting ambassadors. Brands who work with Harrington spent up to a year reviewing the athlete before agreeing to a deal, Hartnett said.

“A lot of due diligence and consideration has gone into knowing and understanding who she is. She is a character who people warm to and I think anyone who goes beyond that initial reaction of ‘is Kellie Harrington anti-immigrant?’ will realise the single headline is not always the best guide to a full story.”

In the interview last Monday, the boxer was asked about a Twitter post from October. She retweeted a video from GB News, in which a controversial Dutch journalist, Eva Vlaardingerbroek, claimed European girls were being “sacrificed on the altar of mass migration”. Harrington later deleted her tweet.

Off The Ball presenter Hannon asked her to clarify her “strongly held views on immigration”. She responded by accusing him of “hanging me out to dry” and asked him to move on to the next question, a request repeated live on air by a public relations woman representing Spar.

Referring to a character from the film Frozen, Harrington told Hannon: “Be like Elsa and just let it go.”

“It’s my job to ask questions,” he replied.​

In a statement released after the interview, Harrington said: “How this came across is not reflective of me as a person or my thoughts.”

Hartnett added: “I think if Kellie had her time over again she would have probably chosen to answer the question in less of an emotional way.

“Shane had every right to ask the question and Kellie’s views on this are important. I don’t think her views are anything like they have been represented. But she could have explained that better, and not got caught up in a social media pile-on.”

A report in January by sponsorship consultants Onside revealed Harrington is the third most marketable sports personality in Ireland (behind Katie Taylor and Katie McCabe) for overall appeal to a brand for personal endorsement deals.

According to one well-placed industry insider, the 33-year-old can command between €50,000 and €100,000 per sponsorship deal.