BBC 'undermined its credibility' with Gary Lineker's Match of the Day suspension

Former director general criticises corporation after presenter suspended for comments on government migration plans

Gary Lineker has been vocal in his views on Brexit, the UK refugee crisis and other political topics.. PA.
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The BBC has “undermined its own credibility” with the suspension of Gary Lineker from its flagship football TV programme, a former director general of the corporation has said.

Greg Dyke, who is also a former chairman of the English Football Association, said the BBC was “mistaken” in standing Lineker down from hosting duties on Match Of The Day.

Lineker, the face of the BBC's football coverage, will step back from presenting Match of the Day, following a row over his criticism of the government's migration policy, the corporation said on Friday.

But Mr Dyke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “There is a long-established precedent in the BBC that is that if you're an entertainment presenter or you're a football presenter, then you are not bound by those same [impartiality] rules.

“The real problem of today is that the BBC has undermined its own credibility by doing this because it looks like — the perception out there — is that the BBC has bowed to government pressure.

“And once the BBC does that, then you're in real problems.

“The perception out there is going to be that Gary Lineker, a much-loved television presenter, was taken off air after government pressure on a particular issue.”

Lineker will not present the show again until there is “an agreed and clear position on his use of social media”, a BBC spokesman said.

The BBC announced that this weekend's edition of the show would be broadcast without pundits or presenters, after many pulled out in support of Lineker.

BBC suspends football pundit Gary Lineker over UK asylum policy comment

BBC suspends football pundit Gary Lineker over UK asylum policy comment

Saturday’s TV and radio sporting timetables were changed at the last minute and Sunday’s Match Of The Day 2 has also been thrown into question

Match of the Day was replaced by a shortened highlights reel featuring no commentary and without studio punditry.

The show lasted 20 minutes and did not feature the usual title music or graphics, instead using the name Premier League Highlights.

The BBC has apologised for the disruption, and said it would air only “limited sport programming” at the weekend and was “working hard to resolve the situation”.

The Professional Footballers’ Association said it will fully support any players who do not want to fulfil media duties with the BBC after Premier League matches in solidarity.

“The PFA have been speaking to members who wanted to take a collective position and to be able to show their support for those who have chosen not to be part of tonight's programme,” a representative for the PFA said.

“During those conversations we made clear that, as their union, we would support all members who might face consequences for choosing not to complete their broadcast commitments.”

New legislation unveiled on Tuesday would ban migrants entering the UK illegally — particularly on small boats in the English Channel — from making asylum claims and would remove them to a third country.

Lineker shared a post on Twitter on Tuesday that said: “There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries.

“This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the '30s.”

The sport presenter drew praise but also criticism for his comments, particularly from the governing Conservative Party, as he compared the language used to launch the policy to that used by Nazi Germany.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman condemned his comments, which she said “diminished” the deaths of six million people, mainly Jews, who were killed by the Nazis.

After refusing to withdraw his criticism, the ex-England star was insistent he would present his regular weekend Match of the Day programme, declaring the worst of the row over in a Thursday afternoon tweet.

“Happy that this ridiculously out of proportion story seems to be abating and very much looking forward to presenting @BBCMOTD on Saturday,” he said.

However, on Friday, a BBC representative said: “The BBC has been in extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days. We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines.

“The BBC has decided that he will step back from presenting Match of the Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.

“When it comes to leading our football and sports coverage, Gary is second to none.

“We have never said that Gary should be an opinion-free zone, or that he can’t have a view on issues that matter to him, but we have said that he should keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies.”

More reactions after the announcement

Pundits Alan Shearer and Ian Wright announced on Friday their boycott of this weekend’s highlights programme after the BBC made its announcement.

Fellow former England internationals Micah Richards, Alex Scott and Jermaine Jenas — none of whom were due to appear this weekend on the show — backed their fellow pundits.

Following the news, former BBC Breakfast and Football Focus presenter Dan Walker tweeted: “I used to sit in for @GaryLineker on MOTD … not sure I’d fancy it this weekend. What a mess!”

In response, a BBC representative said: “Some of our pundits have said that they don’t wish to appear on the programme while we seek to resolve the situation with Gary.

“We understand their position and we have decided that the programme will focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry.”

Meanwhile, an online petition calling for Gary Lineker to be reinstated in his post on Match Of The Day, has reached 100,000 signatures.

The petition, which was started by The Mirror newspaper on Friday, reached its initial target in fewer than 10 hours.

Who is Gary Lineker

Lineker, 62, is a former English professional footballer. He played for clubs including Leicester City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona, and was the top scorer in the 1986 World Cup.

After retiring from football, Lineker pursued a career in sports broadcasting, becoming a regular presenter for the BBC's Match of the Day programme for more than 20 years.

He has become known for his willingness to engage with political issues on social media. Lineker has been vocal in his views on Brexit, the refugee crisis and other political topics.

His tweets have often sparked controversy and drawn criticism, but he has also gained a large following and support for his views.

Updated: March 13, 2023, 6:43 AM