The corporation said on Friday that it had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights programme until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached. Lineker, 62, has been embroiled in a row over impartiality after comparing the language used to launch a new Government asylum policy with 1930s Germany on Twitter.
The announcement by the BBC prompted pundit and former Arsenal striker Ian Wright to tweet that he would not be appearing on Saturday in “solidarity”. “Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity,” he said. Former England striker and pundit Shearer followed shortly after, tweeting: “I have informed the BBC that I won’t be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night.”
BBC presenter Jermaine Jenas, another Match of the Day pundit, later tweeted: “Been on air with the One Show. I wasn’t down to be doing match of the day tomorrow, but if I was I would of said no and stood with my fellow pundits and @GaryLineker”, while Micah Richards had earlier said on Twitter: “I was not due to be working on MOTD tomorrow, but if I was, I would find myself taking the same decision that @IanWright0 & @alanshearer have.” Former Arsenal and England player Alex Scott, who is another BBC pundit, also appeared to rule herself out of presenting the programme on Saturday, tweeting a Gif of US politician Bernie Sanders saying “Nah! Not me” with the caption: “FYI…”.
Commenting on Shearer’s tweet, George Lineker, the son of Gary, said “what a man” and then added in a separate Tweet: “RIP MOTD tomorrow.”
It is now understood that unless the situation changes, the show will be screened with highlights only from Saturday’s English Premier League matches. “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,” a statement from the BBC. “We understand their position and we have decided that the programme will focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry.”
Announcing the decision regarding Lineker earlier on Friday, a spokesperson for the BBC said the broadcaster had 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.”
According to Channel 5, presenter Dan Walker messaged Gary Lineker asking: “What is happening. Are you stepping back?” Lineker responded: “No, they’ve told me I have to step back.”
The row was sparked by Lineker’s response on Twitter to a Home Office video in which Home Secretary Suella Braverman unveiled the Government’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats. The ex-England striker wrote: “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.”
It is the latest controversy to hit the corporation after its chairman, Richard Sharp, became embroiled in a cronyism row over him helping Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility. BBC director-general Tim Davie warned staff about their use of social media when he took on the role at the end of 2020, and guidelines around social media use have since been updated. Staff were told they need to follow editorial guidelines and editorial oversight in the same way as when doing BBC content. Lineker is a freelance broadcaster for the BBC, not a permanent member of staff, and is not responsible for news or political content so does not need to adhere to the same rules on impartiality.