Gary Lineker is set to make his return to television screens today, but has yet to commit to a new BBC football show, with a rival reportedly targeting him. The 62-year-old broadcaster was told to step back from hosting Match Of The Day following his Nazi tweet storm. Lineker had come under fire from MPs as a weekend of chaos saw schedules changed last-minute and a different format for Match Of The Day. The BBC’s highest-paid presenter had been suspended from his duties and faced backlash following a tweet criticising Suella Braverman’s migrant boats plan.
Despite his return, it has also been reported that Lineker has yet to commit to presenting the BBC’s Champions League coverage when their highlights programme begins next year. The BBC have the rights to Champions League highlights for the first time from 2024, with Lineker’s BBC contract running until 2025. Lineker is wanted by rival BT Sport to become the face of the rebranded TNT Sports next season, according to Mail Online. The former Barcelona striker is a familiar face to BT having hosted their Champions League coverage for six years until 2021.
The mayhem 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. Lineker faced fury after he likened the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy to 1930s Germany. He was accused by the BBC of breaking their strict impartiality rules that state staff must “avoid taking sides on political controversies” and “take care when addressing public policy matters”.
Last Friday, the broadcaster 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 with the football analysis show plunged into crisis. Saturday’s night episode later aired with a stripped-back, 20 minute version that did not even feature the iconic theme tune.
Ms Braverman later said his comments were “offensive”. She added: “To kind of throw out those kind of flippant analogies diminishes 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.” While Tory Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson later fumed: “MOTD is old ex footballers ripping off the public by chatting nonsense instead of showing more football.”
BBC director-general Tim Davie, who made the call to suspend Lineker, faced an embarrassing climbdown just 72 hours later when he decided to reverse the decision. Mr Davie said in a statement the corporation has commissioned an independent review of its social media guidelines, particularly for freelancers. He also apologised for the impartiality row and said a review of the BBC’s social media guidelines would take place. Mr Davie described the BBC’s commitment to freedom of expression and impartiality as a “difficult balancing act”.
It risks a potentially explosive new row between the BBC and the Tory party if the star presenter has neither apologised or agreed to abide by impartiality rules in the future. However, Davie told the BBC last weekend he would “absolutely not” quit amid a fallout that has bought the corporation to its knees. He described the unfolding disaster as a “difficult day” and apologised for the disruption to BBC sports programming.
After the official BBC statement was published, Lineker tweeted that he was “delighted” to have navigated a way through the row after a “surreal few days”. He added: “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.”