The BBC is set to make an announcement today regarding Gary Lineker’s future with the broadcaster, following an impartiality row over his tweets about migrants. The controversy led to last-minute schedule changes and a different format for Match of the Day over the weekend. Lineker, who is reportedly set to host the BBC’s FA Cup coverage this weekend, is expected to agree to be more careful about his social media activity in the future, while the BBC is likely to review its social media guidelines. However, if Lineker fails to apologise, his potential return could spark a new row between the broadcaster and the Tory party.
The row erupted after Lineker criticised Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s small boats plan, which will see migrants swiftly detained and removed to either their country of origin or a safe third state within 28 days. Sharing a clip of Braverman discussing the policy, Lineker tweeted: “Good heavens, this is beyond awful.” Responding to another user who described him as “out of order”, he added: “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, and I’m out of order?”
The BBC accused Lineker of breaking its strict impartiality rules that state staff must “avoid taking sides on political controversies” and “take care when addressing public policy matters”. The broadcaster said the pundit’s comments were a “breach of our guidelines”. Braverman later branded the remarks as “offensive” and said they “diminish the unspeakable tragedy that millions of people went through…And I don’t think anything that is happening in the UK today can come close to what happened in the Holocaust.”
On Friday, Lineker revealed he had been suspended and would not host Saturday’s Match Of The Day, sparking a mutiny among his co-stars. Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, Jermaine Jenas, Alex Scott, Mark Chapman and Micah Richards refused to fill in, plunging the football analysis show into crisis. Saturday’s night show then aired with a stripped-back, 20 minute version that did not even feature the iconic theme tune. Football Focus, Final Score, the Fighting Talk podcast and 5Live’s 606 football phone-in were all cancelled as schedules were sent spiralling. Last night’s Match Of The Day 2 ran for just 14 minutes, again with no commentary or presenters.
Director General Tim Davie told the BBC on Saturday he would “absolutely not” quit amid the fallout. Asked if he was sorry about the way he handled the row, he added: “We made decisions and I made decisions based on a real passion about what the BBC is and it’s difficult.” However, a potential decision to review the BBC’s social media guidelines could prove an own goal for Mr Davie as they were written at his request to include the “Lineker Clause”, which stated higher-profile presenters had an extra responsibility to avoid taking sides on political issues.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak waded into the row on Saturday, saying Lineker’s suspension is “rightly a matter” for the BBC, not him or Government. He added that while he respected “not everyone will always agree” with Government policies, he praised the pundit for being a “great footballer and talented presenter”.
Lineker has presented Match Of The Day since 1999.