Football 1 The BBC 0: Pundits and punters line up to support Lineker

Football 1-0 The BBC: Show of strength by Beeb bosses backfires as pundits and punters line up in support of Gary Lineker after he was told to step away from Match of the Day following ‘Nazi’ tweet

  • The decision to take Gary Lineker off Match of the Day hasn’t had desired effect 
  • Pundits and punters were amongst those to express their support for Lineker 
  • BBC Sport shows were forced off air or broadcast to lower standard than normal 

If Gary Lineker’s critics thought that forcing him off Match of the Day would be a significant win in the culture wars that beset the UK, they were perhaps last night reflecting that it had turned into the ultimate Pyrrhic victory.

The huge outpouring of support for Lineker among fellow pundits and the football community was well beyond what might have been expected and rendered the BBC unable to maintain even a modicum of its usual football output in an unprecedented mass walkout.

What passed for Match of the Day — though it was simply styled as ‘Premier League highlights’ — was an emasculated travesty. There was 20 minutes of goals and brief highlights with no commentary, no analysis, no explanation. It was like low budget amateur club DVD.

Indeed, the BBC director general had to apologise for the entire day’s offering of football from the BBC on radio and TV after an extraordinary day in which star pundits and presenters refused to work, out of solidarity with Lineker, leaving the BBC forced to rerun podcasts and offer the meagre 20 minute highlights. Match of the Day 2 tonight will likely be in a similar format.

Pundits Micah Richards, Jermaine Jenas, Jermain Defoe, Glenn Murray, Dion Dublin and presenters Alex Scott, Mark Chapman and Jason Mohammad were among the scores of BBC mainstays who withdrew their services, meaning flagship programmes Football Focus and Final Score didn’t go ahead. 

The decision to take Gary Lineker off Match of the Day didn’t have the desired effect

BBC Sport shows were forced off air or broadcast to standards well below what is expected

BBC Director General Tim Daive suspended Lineker following his controversial tweet

BBC Five Live were forced to cancel Fighting Talk and the Five Live Sports Show at 1pm and had to run podcasts instead. Match of Day commentators led by Steve Wilson Jonathan Perace, Guy Mowbary and Robyn Cowan declined to work.

When Director General Tim Davie had suspended Lineker on Friday, because of his tweet comparing the Government’s language around their new Migration Bill to 1930s Germany, it was meant to be a clipping of his wings by the former Conservative party candidate, and by the recently-appointed BBC chairman Richard Sharp — the man who made a ‘significant error of judgment’ in failing to declare his role in securing Boris Johnson a loan just weeks before the then Prime Minister nominated him for the job. Instead, it has turned into a full-scale crisis which would be beyond the wildest imaginings of the satirical show, W1A.

Speaking to BBC News, Davie admitted it had been a ‘difficult day’ for the corporation but said ‘we are working very hard to resolve the situation’ and that ‘success for me is getting Gary back on air.’ 

He is said to be considering reviewing impartiality rules for freelancers like Lineker, the issue being that BBC staff are meant to be impartial on political issues, to protect the their independent status as national broadcaster.

But Davie’s show of strength has only served to demonstrate just how powerful support is for him within football. It started with Ian Wright and Alan Shearer saying they wouldn’t appear on Match of the Day and ended up with Jurgen Klopp jumping to Lineker’s defence and Leicester fans brandishing ‘Migrants welcome!’ placards in support of the presenter, who was at The King Power Stadium to watch his team lose 3-1 to Chelsea.

Ian Dennis, who unlike the other commentators is on the BBC staff rather than a freelance, did commentate for Five Live on the Leeds v Brighton game, introducing the game by saying it was ‘a very difficult time for BBC Sport and those that work in the department. And we all hope that gets resolved. 

Personally I have found today very difficult. But I’m a BBC staff member. I’m a radio commentator for BBC Five Live and like every Saturday, we provide a service to you.’

This is also a crisis for the Premier League, who are caught in the cross fire and in urgent talks with the BBC, wanting the situation resolved quickly, with the season reaching a climax and the mainstream terrestrial broadcaster unable to fulfil its contractual obligations.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp jumped to the defence of Lineker following the incident

A Manchester City side showed a sign which read ‘Gary Lineker for Prime Minister’

One Premier League club executive said: ‘This needs to be sorted very quickly. Match of the Day is still an important show with a big audience. The situation is obviously an unwelcome distraction at a critical time. There is support for Gary, but as much for the right to speak freely on issues of interest and importance on social media.’

Will Gary Lineker return to MOTD in the future?

Yes – 4/6 

No – 11/10

Odds provided by Paddy Power 

Premier League players have also made it clear, via their union, the Professional Footballers’ Association that they will not participate in Match of the Day post-match interviews while Lineker remains suspended. There is widespread desire among senior players to show solidarity with Lineker and the likes of Shearer and Wright, all former members of the association.

Liverpool manager Klopp expressed bemusement at the situation when asked after Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat by Bournemouth. ‘My problem with the situation how I understand it — and I’m not native — is that I cannot see any reason why they would ask anyone to step back for saying that. I can’t. I’m not sure if that’s a language issue or not. But that’s the world we are living in. Everybody is so concerned about doing things in the right manner, saying the right stuff to every-body, and if you don’t do that you create a s***storm.

‘If I understand it right then this is about an opinion about human rights. If I’ve got it right then for me there’s no reason [for the BBC to have stood Lineker down].’

Fellow pundits are perplexed that Lineker has been suspended when the likes of Lord Sugar, who presents BBC show The Apprentice, has tweeted attacking rail union leader Mick Lynch and strike action, apparently with impunity, while saying that Lineker ‘should keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies’. 

The Apprentice is filmed by an independent company and sold to the BBC while Lineker is a BBC freelance but BBC guidelines refer to ‘presenters primarily associated with the BBC’.

Not all the pundits agree with Lineker’s views. However, they all think he should be allowed to express them and disagree with the way in which the situation has been handled. They have spoken together on the phone but say that the boycott was not orchestrated by Lineker but rather was spontaneous.

There is confusion as BBC guidelines on social media commentary specifically make it clear that the risk of breaching the standards are lower ‘where an individual is expressing views publicly in an unrelated area, for example a sports presenter … expressing views on politics.’ 

That would appear to give Lineker licence to tweet and pundits say they were encouraged by the BBC to tweet about human rights and LGBT issues during the World Cup in Qatar.

Alan Shearer and Ian Wright showed solidarity with Lineker by not appearing on MOTD

Former head of BBC News Roger Mosey said the BBC has been inconsistent in applying its impartiality rules

Greg Dyke, the BBC director-general between 2000 and 2004 and a former FA chairman, told Radio 4’s Today programme that the understanding at the corporation is that ‘news and current affairs employees are expected to be impartial, not the rest. If you start applying the rules of news and current affairs to everybody, where does it end?’

But Roger Mosey, former head of BBC News said on Twitter: ‘[Lineker’s] tweets weren’t compliant with editorial guidelines … The BBC is right about that, and also that impartiality is vital. But the BBC has been inconsistent in applying the guidelines. 

‘The corporation also hasn’t explained why Lineker is restrained but Alan Sugar & Co seem not to be. By removing Lineker from MOTD, it looks as if the BBC has given in to one side of the culture war. Lineker should stay within clear, agreed guidelines.’

It seems unlikely Lineker will back down or apologise. Davie now looks like he might be about to reinterpret the guidelines to give freelancers more leeway. Yet all the while a great British institution in Match of the Day, once seen as glorious escapism form the real word, is left strafed from all sides as collateral damage.

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