Lineker fears role as columnist puts clean reputation at risk

Gary Lineker is close to walking out on his role as a columnist at the News of the World over concerns that the newspaper's involvement in phone hacking could damage his reputation.

The former England footballer and host of the BBC's Match of the Day has held urgent talks with the editor of the newspaper, Colin Myler. Lineker is understood to want further reassurances that those responsible for the culture of hacking are no longer involved with the organisation.

He had been earmarked to head a promotional campaign for the newspaper but, with the hacking scandal escalating, he has declined to take part.

Lineker is one of the most highly paid presenters at the BBC, and is said to earn £1.5m a year.

As one of Britain's most prominent sports commentators, his departure would represent a huge loss to the newspaper, for which he first wrote a column when he was still a player. He joined the News of the World again in August last year. "It's a fantastic opportunity to write for the brightest and the best sports pages in the business," he said at the time.

He took up the post with the red-top title after leaving a high-profile position with The Mail on Sunday, again on a matter of principle, after that newspaper reported on the private life of the Football Association chairman Lord Triesman and reported the FA chief's concerns over alleged bribery in the race to host the 2018 World Cup.

Lineker is not due to write for the News of the World this weekend because football is in its close season, but it is looking increasingly unlikely that he will still be at the paper when the Premier League resumes next month.