The BBC has found itself embroiled in a controversy over impartiality after Gary Lineker, the host of Match of the Day, tweeted criticism of the government’s new asylum policy. Lineker’s tweet, which included a comparison to Germany in the 1930s, drew criticism from Conservative MPs and led to his suspension from presenting the show. The decision to suspend Lineker was met with backlash from viewers and his co-presenters, who refused to take part in the show in solidarity. The resulting domino effect saw the BBC without any of its own sports broadcasting on a day of football and rugby.
The controversy began when Lineker quote-tweeted a post from the UK Home Office announcing plans to detain and return illegal migrants. He replied, “Good heavens, this is beyond awful.” A Twitter user responded that Lineker was “out of order”, to which he replied that the policy was “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”.
Conservative MPs were quick to criticise Lineker’s tweet, with Tory party deputy chairman Lee Anderson saying it was “just another example of how out of touch these overpaid stars are with the voting public”. MP Bill Cash called Lineker’s comparison “complete and total rubbish”, while MP Brendan Clarke-Smith said it was “not just insulting to this nation and the generosity of Brits, but also grossly offensive to the victims of one of the most evil regimes in history”.
The BBC initially said it would have a “frank conversation” with Lineker over his tweets and responsibilities. However, reports emerged on Friday that Lineker would be allowed to stay on duty. He tweeted, “Well, it’s been an interesting couple of days. Happy that this ridiculously out of proportion story seems to be abating and very much looking forward to presenting @BBCMOTD on Saturday.” But BBC chiefs demanded an apology from Lineker in a public statement and an expression to be more careful with his social media use, which he refused to do. As a result, Lineker was suspended from presenting Match of the Day on Saturday night.
The decision to suspend Lineker was met with backlash from viewers and his co-presenters, who refused to take part in the show in solidarity. The resulting domino effect saw the BBC without any of its own sports broadcasting on a day of football and rugby. England also faced France in a Six Nations fixture, but it remains unclear whether that received any coverage at all on the BBC.
The controversy has raised questions about impartiality at the BBC and the role of social media in public discourse. While Lineker’s tweet drew criticism from Conservative MPs, it also received support from others who agreed with his stance on the government’s asylum policy. The BBC’s decision to suspend Lineker has been criticised as an overreaction and an infringement on free speech. The resulting boycott by Lineker’s co-presenters and commentators has highlighted the importance of solidarity and collective action in standing up for one’s beliefs.