Gary Lineker to return to BBC's Match of the Day

Ex-England captain had been told to stand down as presenter after comments about government's immigration policy

Former England footballer and BBC presenter Gary Lineker will return to the MOTD chair. Reuters
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Gary Lineker will return to BBC’s Match of the Day show after a weekend of disruption to its sport schedules, the broadcaster has announced.

The BBC was forced to axe much of its sports coverage on Saturday and Sunday after presenters, commentators and pundits refused to work in a show of solidarity with Lineker.

The 62-year-old former England football captain was told to stand down from presenting Match of the Day over comments he made comparing language used to launch a new government asylum seeker policy with that of 1930s Germany.

The BBC said Lineker had breached its impartiality rules in comparing the rhetoric.

But its decision to take him off air led to charges that it had bowed to pressure from the government.

The corporation has said it will now hold a review of how presenters can use social media, with a particular focus on how it applies to freelancers outside news and current affairs.

BBC Director General Tim Davie issued an apology on Monday — but not to Lineker.

In a statement, he said: “Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary, and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend.

“Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this.

“The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC's social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air.”

Following the news of his reinstatement, Lineker tweeted to say that he was “delighted we have navigated a way through this”.

He said: “I want to thank you all for the incredible support, particularly my colleagues at BBC Sport, for the remarkable show of solidarity. Football is a team game but their backing was overwhelming.

“I have been presenting sport on the BBC for almost three decades and am immeasurably proud to work with the best and fairest broadcaster in the world. I cannot wait to get back in the MOTD chair on Saturday.

“A final thought: however difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away. It’s heartwarming to have seen the empathy towards their plight from so many of you.

“We remain a country of predominantly tolerant, welcoming and generous people. Thank you.”

The new legislation unveiled last week will make asylum claims from those who travel to the UK on small boats automatically illegal, with migrants removed to a third country and banned from returning or claiming citizenship.

The UN's refugee agency has criticised the plan, saying it amounts to an “asylum ban” that will prevent people fleeing war and persecution from seeking refuge in the UK.

The UNHCR has urged MPs to block the “profoundly” concerning plan to tackle small boat crossings and “pursue more humane and practical policy solutions”.

On Tuesday, Lineker wrote about the policy: “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.”

Lineker, who has offered two refugees a home, refused to retract the comments or apologise for his position.

He received significant backing from public figures, including Piers Morgan and Sky News commentator Adam Boulton.

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.

On Monday, a spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomed the move for Lineker to return to the show.

“We are pleased that this situation has been resolved and that fans will be able to watch Match of the Day as normal this weekend,” the spokesman said.

Updated: March 13, 2023, 12:40 PM