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Fallout from Lineker suspension continues as MOTD commentators boycott BBC show

11 Mar 2023 6 minute read
Micah Richards, Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker. Image by Shaun Botterill, PA Images

Saturday’s Match Of The Day will go ahead without a presenter, pundits and several regular commentators after Gary Lineker was told to step back from hosting the BBC show in a row over impartiality.

Former England footballers and MOTD regulars including Alan Shearer and Ian Wright previously announced they would be boycotting the show, in solidarity with Lineker.

Late on Friday evening several of the show’s commentators shared a joint statement online, announcing they would also be stepping down from Saturday’s broadcast.

“As commentators on MOTD, we have decided to step down from tomorrow night’s broadcast,” the statement read.

“We are comforted that football fans who want to watch their teams should still be able to do so, as management can use World Feed commentary if they wish.

“However, in the circumstances, we do not feel it would be appropriate to take part in the programme.”

The statement was shared by MOTD commentators including Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Rowen and Steven Wyeth.

In a previous statement the BBC said the show would “focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry” saying it understood the position of its presenters.

It comes after Lineker, 62, became embroiled in a row over impartiality after comparing the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany on Twitter.

Collective position

The broadcaster said it had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights programme until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.

Earlier, BBC director-general Tim Davie – who warned staff about their use of social media when he took on the role at the end of 2020 before guidelines on their use was updated – was asked by BBC News why Lineker had not been sacked.

Mr Davie replied: “Well I think we always look to take proportionate action and that’s what we’ve done.”

He said he would not “add to” the corporation’s current statement on the matter, but that there had been “very constructive discussions”.

Reacting to Shearer and Wright’s boycott, the BBC boss added: “I absolutely respect people’s right to make that decision, and BBC Sport have to look at the programme they will produce for the weekend as normal.”

The Daily Express reported a group of 36 Conservative MPs and peers had signed a letter to Mr Davie, demanding a full and independent investigation into Lineker’s remarks as well as a full apology “without reservation” from the presenter.

Before the BBC announcement, former Manchester City defender Micah Richards and ex-footballer Jermaine Jenas – who were both not due to appear this weekend on MOTD – also backed their fellow pundits.

The PA news agency understands the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) will fully support any players who do not want to fulfil media duties with the BBC after Premier League matches in solidarity with Lineker and the other pundits – who are former England international players.

A number of players contacted the PFA seeking advice, and the union has subsequently spoken to all Premier League clubs to establish a collective position.

An online petition calling for Lineker to be reinstated in his post, organised by The Daily Mirror on Friday, reached 100,000 signatures in under 10 hours.

‘Opinion-free zone’

Announcing the decision regarding Lineker on Friday, a spokesperson for the BBC said the broadcaster had been “in extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days. We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines”.

They continued: “The BBC has decided that he will step back from presenting Match Of The Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.

“When it comes to leading our football and sports coverage, Gary is second to none.

“We have never said that Gary should be an opinion-free zone, or that he can’t have a view on issues that matter to him, but we have said that he should keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that “individual cases” were a matter for the BBC.

‘Unmanageably big’

Former Newsnight host Emily Maitlis, who was herself reprimanded by the BBC for sharing a tweet the corporation viewed as “controversial”, said the backlash was getting “unmanageably big” for the corporation.

Retweeting the Friday statement shared by the MOTD commentators about their boycott, she wrote: “This is getting unmanageably big for the BBC now.”

Maitlis’ co host on the podcast The News Agents, Jon Sopel, also a former BBC employee, described the fallout as “incredible”.

“So the BBC launched a war without a battle plan,” he tweeted.

Elsewhere, Labour condemned the corporation’s “cowardly decision” to stand Lineker down as “an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure”.

A party source also said: “Tory politicians lobbying to get people sacked for disagreeing with Government policies should be laughed at, not pandered to. The BBC should rethink their decision.”

Political pressure

Philippa Childs, Head of Bectu – which represents thousands of BBC workers, said the Lineker decision was “deeply concerning” and “will give the appearance that they have bowed to political pressure from ministers”.

The row was first sparked by Lineker’s response on Twitter to a Home Office video in which Home Secretary Suella Braverman unveiled the Government’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats.

The ex-England striker wrote: “There is no huge influx. 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.”

Current BBC guidelines state staff need to follow editorial guidelines and editorial oversight on social media in the same way as when doing content.

Lineker is a freelance broadcaster for the BBC, not a permanent member of staff, and is not responsible for news or political content so does not need to adhere to the same rules on impartiality.

Despite this, last year he was named as the BBC’s top earning on-air talent for the fifth consecutive year. He was paid between £1,350,000 and £1,354,999 in 2021/2022 for MOTD and Sports Personality Of The Year.

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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
1 year ago

The only reason The Nation could have to put Lineker’s financial information in this story is to try and discredit him. ….Because this story has NOTHING at all to how much he is paid. The Nation is rapidly becoming suspect in my eyes….. Mind you “Welsh Nationalism” is no doubt as xenophobic, hateful, deluded and nasty as English or any other Nationalism……. Here is a message to the editors of this site: Shape up, I will be keeping a close eye from now on, a very close eye, and any time I feel that this site hasn’t met the proper… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

So there are certain types of elitists that are O.K with you. I have no argument with his stance on migrants but his earnings are a different thing altogether. What makes those earnings of possible relevance is that Lineker is probably also a beneficiary of some exotic tax “mitigation” scam so it’s a bit rich that he wants “taxpayers” to take the strain. Reminds me a bit of Bono and Geldof, 2 other famous for having their earnings “optimised” by dodgy accountants but quick to tell us, the common public, to shell out for their pet charities.

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
1 year ago

Could the establishment go any further in proving Lineker right than copying the People’s Court laws of 1934 banning criticism of government?

Richard 1
Richard 1
1 year ago

After recent news of the BBC chairman’s role in finding a huge loan for BoJo I would have expected them to be more cautious about marginalising Lineker for making a perfectly valid criticism of tory policy. Beeb radio output is going down the pan anyway. What can I listen to while I’m washing up???

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

Auntie-Life on Earth Party scores 2 own goals…

Doctor Trousers
1 year ago

Good on him, and everyone who has taken a stand along with him. If only some of the BBC’s current affairs team had shown the same backbone in the past (Emily Maitlis notwithstanding).
Everyone involved in making Question Time springs to mind, for starters.

Last edited 1 year ago by Doctor Trousers
1 year ago

This is a direct result of the deliberately divisive politics, using spurious culture war issues and wedge issues in an attempt to to divide and rule, that we’ve had since 2016. It’s not Andrew RT Davies’ fantasy ‘woke mob’ that is trying to shut down debate it’s this government and their supporters. It’s says it all when they are trying to shut down an ex England football centre forward and the BBC is to frightened to broadcast a programme on British nature by national treasure Sir David Attenborough!

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

MOTD to go on without presenter, pundits and commentators and audience hopefully…

1 year ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

It’s a grim programme anyway so we can do without it for several weeks. They can return it with a different format, different talking heads and less of extolling the virtues of overpaid sportsmen. The obsession with “how much money” and “who’s worth what” doesn’t sit well when most of the country is on its backside. Elitism stinks just as much in sport as it does in business, politics or any other walk of life.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago
Reply to  hdavies15

That reminds me of a school cricket match, the skinniest bespectacled lad was at the crease and this god awful sadist of a teacher was standing at his shoulder berating him as usual when to everyone amusement said ‘wimp’ swung his bat backwards and broke said teacher’s nose, blood everywhere and 2 dozen 13 year old’s falling about in fits of laughter. He gave ‘prof’ a wide berth after that…don’t know why that should come to mind after nearly 60 years…still MOTD is only watched by 20 odd million people…salut hd

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