BBC Crisis Intensifies as Players Unite Behind Lineker’s Immigration Stance
The BBC was forced to cancel much of its sports programming this weekend as the network sought to stem an escalating crisis over its suspension of football host Gary Lineker over comments critical of the British government’s new asylum policy.
Presenters, pundits and Premier League players rallied to support Lineker by boycotting the airwaves on Saturday, accusing Britain’s National Radio of political bias and suppressing free speech, and receiving praise from Conservative politicians.
The broadcaster only aired “limited sports programming” over the weekend after the hosts of several of its popular sports programs refused to appear in solidarity with Lineker.
The former England captain has been suspended from popular football’s Match of the Day after he criticized the government’s plan to detain and deport boat migrants in a Twitter post comparing lawmakers’ language about immigrants to that used in Nazi Germany. .
Instead of comprehensive Saturday coverage of the world’s most popular league, the BBC had no preview shows on radio or television nor an early recap of the final evening results of Premier League matches.
The lunchtime television program “Football Focus” was replaced by a rerun of the antiques show “Bargain Hunt”, while the early evening “Final Score” was replaced by “The Repair Shop”.
‘Match of the Day’ – a late-night program that has been a British institution for 60 years – has been pared down from the usual hour and a half of highlights and analysis to a compilation of 20-minute clips from the day’s games, with no commentary or spoilers – just cheers and jeers from the stadium crowds to get on the soundtrack.
There will not be any post-match player interviews either. The Professional Footballers’ Association said some players wanted to boycott the offer, and as a result “players involved in today’s matches will not be required to take part in Match of the Day interviews”.
The union said it was a “logical solution” to avoid players facing penalties for breaching their broadcasting obligations.
The BBC said it “regrets these changes, which we know will be disappointing to BBC sports fans. We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”
Even British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took note, urging Lineker and the BBC to settle their dispute.
He said, “Gary Lineker was a fantastic footballer and a talented presenter. I hope the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in due course, but it is up to them, not the government.”
Lineker, 62, was a household name in Britain even before he became the main ‘Match of the Day’ announcer in 1999.
One of the most highly regarded English footballers, he was the leading scorer at the 1986 World Cup and finished his international career with 48 goals in 80 matches for England.
Having retired from a career that included stints with Barcelona, Tottenham, Everton and Leicester, Lineker has become one of the UK’s most influential media personalities and the BBC’s highest-paid star, earning £1.35m ($1.6m) last year.
Lineker, an avid social media user with 8.7 million followers on Twitter, has long angered center-right politicians and activists with his liberal views, including criticism of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
The latest controversy began with a tweet on Tuesday from the account Lineker describing the government’s plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat as “an immeasurably cruel policy directed against the most vulnerable people with language not unlike that used by Germany in 30 seconds.”
The Conservative government called Lineker’s Nazi comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some lawmakers said he should be fired.
In his statement, Sunak doubled down on the government’s plan to deter people from taking dangerous journeys across the English Channel in small boats, saying it was the only way to “break once and for all this cycle of misery”.
The BBC said on Friday that Lineker would “take a step back” from “match of the day” until it had “an agreed and clear position on his use of social media”.
Lineker has not yet commented publicly, and on Saturday he went to his hometown of Leicester to watch the Leicester City match with Chelsea in the English Premier League. He was greeted by cheers from the spectators when he arrived for a match which Chelsea won 3-1.
It is the duty of the 100-year-old BBC, which is funded by a license fee paid by all households with television, to be impartial in its news coverage, and the BBC’s news staff are prohibited from expressing their political views.
Lineker, as a freelancer who does not work in news or current affairs, is not bound by the same rules and has sometimes pushed the boundaries of what the BBC deems acceptable. Last year, the BBC found that Linker had breached its neutrality rules with a tweet about alleged Russian donations from the Conservatives.
The BBC’s impartiality has come under scrutiny recently over revelations that its chairman, Richard Sharpe – a Tory donor – helped arrange a loan for then Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2021, weeks before Sharpe was appointed to the BBC job on the government’s recommendation.
Former BBC director general Greg Dyke said the network had “undermined its credibility” by appearing to be yielding to government pressure.
Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor Party, said the BBC was “giving in” to political pressure from Tory MPs.
“They got it so wrong with this, and now they’re so exposed,” he said.
You must log in to post a comment.