Gary Lineker: BBC boss Tim Davie ‘sorry’ after sport disruption in Lineker rowon March 11, 2023 at 10:39 pm

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Football coverage was severely impacted by a staff walk-out in support of the Match of the Day host.

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BBC director general Tim Davie has apologised to licence fee payers after a day of disruption for sports programming.

Football shows were pulled at the last minute when presenters and commentators walked out in support of Gary Lineker.

The Match of the Day host was suspended on Friday after he criticised the government’s controversial asylum policy.

Mr Davie denied he was pressured into the move by the government.

The BBC boss admitted it had been a “difficult day” for the corporation but said “we are working very hard to resolve the situation”.

Interviewed by BBC News, Mr Davie said “success for me is getting Gary back on air”, adding he was prepared to review impartiality rules for freelance staff like Lineker.

The director general said he would “absolutely not” be resigning but admitted “this has been a tough time for the BBC”.

He said there had been no “pandering” to any political party amid accusations from opposition parties that BBC executives had bowed to pressure from Downing Street and ministers over the anti-government tweet.

Mr Davie said Lineker had been asked to “step back” after getting “involved in party political matters”.

Commenting on the controversial so-called Stop The Boats Bill on Tuesday, Lineker called it an “immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.

His suspension on Friday triggered a wider debate about BBC impartiality, the government’s asylum policy and the position of the broadcaster’s chairman Richard Sharp.

It also led to an unprecedented day of turmoil for the BBC’s sport operation, with staff including some of the most recognisable faces and voices associated with its football coverage downing tools.

On a day which should have featured morning to evening football programming on TV and radio, the BBC was forced to air re-runs of programmes or play podcasts on Radio 5 Live to plug gaps in the schedule.

Football Focus was due to air at noon but was pulled when host Alex Scott tweeted it “doesn’t feel right going ahead with the show today” an hour-and-a-half before it was due to start.

Final Score was axed from the 4pm slot when host Jason Mohammad told the BBC he was refusing to present.

Radio 5 Live’s regular Saturday morning show Fighting Talk was cancelled when staff boycotted, a decision host Colin Murray said was “taken by the entire… team and myself”.

Fans tuning in to follow the afternoon’s action on TV were met with re-runs of Bargain Hunt and The Repair Shop. At one point, 5 Live resorted to replaying old pre-recorded material.

Match of the Day is still slated to go ahead on Saturday night – but it has been reduced to a 20 minute edition which will not have any commentary and will be without pundits Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, or any replacements.

There are major questions surrounding Sunday’s planned coverage and whether the BBC can get Match of the Day 2 with Mark Chapman onto TV screens. The host was absent from the airwaves on Saturday.

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Prime minister Rishi Sunak called Lineker a “talented presenter” in a statement on Saturday evening, but added the row was not a matter for the government.

He said: “As prime minister, I have to do what I believe is right, respecting that not everyone will always agree. That is why I have been unequivocal in my approach to stopping the boats.

“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.”

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said “individual cases are a matter for the BBC,” but Downing Street and several senior ministers have been vocally critical in recent days.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer have both attacked the presenter for implying a comparison between the government’s language and Nazi Germany.

Ms Braverman said the Nazi comparison used by Lineker was “lazy and unhelpful”.

Senior Labour politicians have expressed support for Lineker, including leader Sir Keir Starmer. He said the government should focus on fixing the asylum system rather than “whingeing on” about Lineker and accused BBC bosses of bowing to pressure from ministers.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called for BBC chairman Richard Sharp to stand down, saying the row exposed “failings at the top” of the corporation.

“We need leadership at the BBC that upholds our proud British values and can withstand today’s consistently turbulent politics and Conservative bullying tactics,” he added.

Earlier on Saturday, Greg Dyke, who acted as director general between 2000 and 2004, said the BBC had “undermined its own credibility” over its handling of the row.

He pointed to the ongoing controversy surrounding Mr Sharp, adding the Lineker move could create the impression the “BBC has bowed to government pressure”.

An ongoing KC-led review into Mr Sharp’s appointment as BBC chairman is investigating whether he failed to properly disclose details of his involvement in the facilitation of an £800,000 loan guarantee for the then PM Boris Johnson. He has denied any involvement in the arrangement of a loan for Mr Johnson.

The BBC is also conducting its own internal review over any potential conflicts of interest Mr Sharp may have in his current role as BBC chairman.

Image shows Gary Lineker

Image source, Getty Images

Former head of BBC TV News and director of sport, Roger Mosey, also called for Mr Sharp to go and said the chairman had “damaged the BBC’s credibility”.

However, others have been more supportive of the BBC’s actions. Richard Ayre, former controller of editorial policy at the corporation, said on Friday the BBC had “no choice” but to take action against Lineker.

He said the BBC’s director general Tim Davie had “clearly tried” to reach an agreement with Lineker but failed, adding: “It’s inevitable now that having in effect not sacked him but removed him temporarily at least, the BBC will now come under a torrent of criticism saying it’s acting under the government’s behest.”

Lineker has hosted Match of the Day since 1999 and is the BBC’s highest paid star, having earned about £1.35m in 2020-21. He is employed by the BBC on a freelance basis.

BBC employees are expected to be remain impartial on political matters and must follow strict social media guidelines, but there is significant debate about how they should apply to staff outside of news.

BBC News has been told that the Match of the Day production team were not told in advance about its decision on Lineker.

Lineker has not yet publicly commented on the latest developments and was seen attending a Leicester City home game earlier on Saturday.

Gary Lineker profile
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