No football matches on the BBC, and even the prime minister responds to the crisis surrounding presenter Gary Lineker: what is going on?

Rewind to last Friday. Then the British public broadcaster BBC announced that Gary Lineker, the former England football star and regular presenter of the football program ‘Match of the day’, was suspended for his criticism of the British Conservative government’s migration plans. In the tweet he sent out on Tuesday, Lineker called it “an immeasurably brutal policy directed at the most vulnerable in a language little different from that of 1930s Germany.”

The government’s bill states that asylum seekers arriving via illegal routes should be apprehended and sent to Rwanda or a “safe third country”. Once these people are “removed” from British territory, they cannot return and can never again apply for British citizenship.

After several days of debate on social media, in British newspapers and even in the corridors of parliament, the BBC announced on Friday that Lineker’s social media activities are “a breach of BBC guidelines”. “The BBC has decided that he is no longer ‘Match of the day’ until we have a clear position on his use of social media,” it said in a statement. Lineker is allowed by the public broadcaster to have an opinion about sports, but politically, that is more sensitive.


Protests in support of Lineker began soon after the BBC’s announcement, which spread to other BBC programmes. There was an online statement in which several presenters and commentators announced that they would also refuse to work on Saturdays.

The channel suddenly had to rearrange the entire program. So became Football focus’, a magazine-style program usually broadcast before the games, replaced by an old hunting program. ‘Final score’, in which live sports results are discussed, disappeared and the late afternoon program was suddenly not about sports but was replaced by a program about gardening. The radio also had to believe it. For example, a program with live football reports was replaced by a previously recorded podcast, after those employees also decided to boycott the BBC. And the football world also reacted: no fewer than 12 Premier League teams indicated that they would no longer give interviews to the BBC.

Director General Tim Davie apologized Saturday night for the “difficult day”, referring to all the canceled shows. When asked if he would resign, he said no. “But I’m in listening mode and I want to make sure we find a workable solution,” he said.

(Read more below the photo)

During Saturday night’s Leicester City v Chelsea match, fans held up these papers that read: “I’m with Gary. Migrants welcome.” — © Action Images via Reuters

Lineker himself was also seen in the stands during Leicester City’s match against Chelsea. — © REUTERS

“No task for the government”

Meanwhile, the storm has also reignited previous problems. For example, there are again calls for the resignation of BBC chairman Richard Sharp. After an investigation of The Sunday Times it was previously revealed that he helped then Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrange a loan of £800,000 while he was being considered for the position at the broadcaster. However, he denies the conflict of interest. The BBC’s actions now raise the question of whether the public service broadcaster is biased as Lineker’s statements were critical of the current Conservative government.

Rishi Sunak, the current prime minister, clearly felt compelled to respond to the fuss on Saturday night, albeit by defending his government’s bill. He described Lineker as a “great footballer and a talented presenter.” But he also indicated that “the cycle of misery must be broken once and for all”, referring to the migration crisis. “I think the policy we outlined this week is aimed at that,” he said. He also said he hopes the conflict between Lineker and the BBC is resolved “in a timely manner”, adding that this is not a task for the government.

It looks like the storm won’t die down any time soon, though. Several BBC employees have already announced that they will not work on Sunday. Lineker himself has not yet responded to the whole commotion. However, former BBC presenter Dan Walker did during a live broadcast of 5News read a text from Lineker. According to Walker, Lineker allegedly sent a message saying: “They told me to step back.” “Gary Lineker wants ‘Match of the day’ keep presenting and make no apologies. It is a decision by the BBC to force him not to present the program at the moment.”

Lineker, who in 1999 for the first time as a presenter on ‘Match of the Day’ appeared, signed a five-year contract in 2020 to stay with the BBC until 2025.

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