Gary Lineker suspension has created a storm at the BBC and outside BBC. The BBC was forced to scrap much of its weekend sports programming as the network scrambled to stem an escalating crisis over its suspension of soccer host Gary Lineker for comments criticizing the British government’s new asylum policy.
As a growing number of English Premier League players and BBC presenters rallied to Lineker’s support and refused to appear on the airwaves on Saturday, Britain’s national broadcaster faced allegations of political bias and suppressing free speech, as well as praise from some Conservative politicians.
In an interview with the BBC, Tim Davie, the director general of the BBC, stated that he will not step down despite facing criticism for the decision to suspend Gary Lineker as the host of Match of the Day. Lineker had criticized the UK government, led by Rishi Sunak, for its plans to prevent migrants from crossing the Channel on small boats. Davie emphasized the need to resolve the situation peacefully.
Gary Lineker asked to step down from BBC
Gary Lineker, who presents the Premier League highlights show, was asked to step down from his duties after accusing the UK government of using Nazi-era language to address illegal immigration. This caused the BBC to remove Football Focus and Final Score from the weekend schedule, and BBC Radio 5Live’s coverage was also affected.
Despite the situation, Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, rejected calls for his resignation, stating that his job is to serve licence-fee payers and deliver impartial and world-class content. He expressed his desire for Gary Lineker to return to the show and for the BBC to continue providing quality sports coverage to its audiences.
The broadcaster said it would air only “limited sport programming” this weekend after hosts of many of its popular sports shows declined to appear, in solidarity with Lineker. The former England captain was suspended from “Match of the Day,” a popular soccer highlights show, over a Twitter post that compared lawmakers’ language about migrants to that used in Nazi Germany.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made his first comments on the storm, saying: “Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a talented presenter. I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly a matter for them, not the government.”
Instead of blanket coverage on Saturday of the most popular league in the world, the BBC had no preview shows on radio or TV and no early evening summary of the final scores of Premier League games. Lunchtime TV program “Football Focus” was replaced with a rerun episode of antiques show “Bargain Hunt,” while early evening “Final Score” was swapped for “The Repair Shop.”
Soccer fans tuning in for “Match of the Day” — the late-night program that has been a British institution for 60 years — will be getting a 20-minute show instead of one typically lasting around an hour and a half. There will be no commentary on the matches and no studio punditry from some of the most high-profile stars in the British game who have chosen to support Lineker and not work.
There will not be any post-match player interviews, either. The Professional Footballers’ Association said some players wanted to boycott the show, and as a result “players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with ‘Match of The Day.'”
The union said it was a “common sense solution” to avoid players facing sanctions for breaching their broadcast commitments.
The BBC said it was “sorry for these changes which we recognize will be disappointing for BBC sport fans. We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”
Lineker, 62, was a household name in Britain even before he became chief “Match of the Day” presenter in 1999.
One of English soccer’s most lauded players, Gary Lineker was the leading scorer at the 1986 World Cup and finished his international career with 48 goals in 80 matches for England.
After retiring from a career that included stints with Barcelona, Tottenham, Everton and Leicester, Lineker has become one of the U.K.’s most influential media figures and the BBC’s best-paid star, earning 1.35 million pounds ($1.6 million) last year.