Fallout from Lineker reprimand continues as MOTD commentators boycott BBC show

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

Mike Bedgan
Saturday 11 March 2023 07:59 GMT
Fallout from Lineker suspension continues as MOTD commentators boycott BBC show (James Manning/PA)
Fallout from Lineker suspension continues as MOTD commentators boycott BBC show (James Manning/PA)

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.

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 were 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.

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.

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.”

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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