How the Gary Lineker tweet row unfolded

The 62-year-old sports pundit has been at the centre of a row over impartiality after criticising the Government’s Illegal Immigration Bill.

Ellie Ng
Monday 13 March 2023 10:57 GMT
Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker has been embroiled in a row over impartiality after criticising the Government’s Illegal Immigration Bill in a post on Twitter (Lucy North/PA)
Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker has been embroiled in a row over impartiality after criticising the Government’s Illegal Immigration Bill in a post on Twitter (Lucy North/PA)

BBC sports presenter Gary Lineker has been embroiled in a row over impartiality after criticising the Government’s Illegal Immigration Bill in a post on Twitter.

The row has made headlines and front pages.

Here is a timeline of how events unfolded.

– Tuesday March 7

Lineker comments on a Twitter video put out by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, in which she unveils government plans to stop migrant boats crossing the Channel.

“Good heavens, this is beyond awful,” he writes.

Responding to the sports broadcaster, another Twitter user described his comment as “out of order”, adding that it is “easy to pontificate when it doesn’t affect you”.

Lineker responds: “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, and I’m out of order?”

– Wednesday March 8

Lineker tweets again: “I have never known such love and support in my life than I’m getting this morning (England World Cup goals aside, possibly). I want to thank each and every one of you. It means a lot. I’ll continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice. Cheers all.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s press secretary tells reporters it is “disappointing” to see “that kind of rhetoric” from someone whose salary is paid by the licence fee but said it is “up to the BBC” to take it forward.

Broadcaster Piers Morgan defends Lineker in a Talk TV monologue, saying he has “no problem” with a football presenter giving personal views.

– Thursday March 9

Lineker tells reporters outside his home in Barnes, south-west London, that he does not fear suspension over his tweets and that he stands by his comments.

The sports presenter takes to Twitter again, posting: “Well, it’s been an interesting couple of days. Happy that this ridiculously out of proportion story seems to be abating and very much looking forward to presenting @BBCMOTD on Saturday.

“Thanks again for all your incredible support. It’s been overwhelming.”

On the same social media site, he later responds to House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt after she accuses Labour of borrowing from his “playbook” by being the “party of goal hangers”.

He tweets: “Thank you for mentioning me in your clumsy analogy. I’m just happy to have been better in the 6 yard box than you are at the dispatch box. Best wishes.”

Ms Braverman tells the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast that she found Lineker’s comments “offensive” because her husband is Jewish.

She says: “To kind of throw out those kind of flippant analogies diminishes the unspeakable tragedy that millions of people went through and I don’t think anything that is happening in the UK today can come close to what happened in the Holocaust.”

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer says it is important for the BBC to maintain impartiality if it is to “retain the trust of the public who pay the licence fee”.

She adds: “As somebody whose grandmother escaped Nazi Germany in the 1930s, I think it’s really disappointing and inappropriate to compare government policy on immigration to events in Germany in the 1930s.”

– Friday March 10

The BBC announces that Lineker will “step back” from presenting Match Of The Day (MOTD) until the corporation can agree a position on his use of social media.

This triggers a series of football pundits and presenters to pull out of BBC programming in “solidarity”.

Ian Wright tweets: “Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity.”

Alan Shearer posts: “I have informed the BBC that I won’t be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night.”

Former Manchester City defender Micah Richards and ex-footballer Jermaine Jenas – neither of whom are due to appear on MOTD over the weekend – also back their fellow pundits.

Retired England goalkeeper Ben Foster and Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling both express their support for the move.

In response, a BBC spokesman announces that Saturday’s MOTD will focus on match action “without studio presentation or punditry”.

BBC Director-General Tim Davie tells BBC News there have been “very constructive discussions”.

Later, several of the show’s commentators share a joint statement online, announcing they will also be stepping down from Saturday’s broadcast.

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

Mr Sunak defends the Immigration Bill and says he hopes people will realise it is the “right approach” after he is asked whether the “Linekers of the world” will realise they have “got it wrong”.

Viewers announce on Twitter that they have cancelled their TV licence fee in response to a day of controversy for the BBC.

– Saturday March 11

MOTD airs for only 20 minutes without accompanying commentary or analysis from pundits.

Football Focus and Final Score are pulled from the BBC schedules at the last minute, and are replaced by Bargain Hunt and The Repair Shop respectively.

Football Focus presenter and former Arsenal star Alex Scott says “it doesn’t feel right for me to go ahead with the show”.

Kelly Somers also confirms she will not be presenting any BBC show on Saturday, while former Brighton striker Glenn Murray pulls out of appearing on the two programmes.

Welsh presenter Jason Mohammad also confirms he will not be hosting Final Score on Saturday afternoon.

BBC Radio 5 Live is similarly affected, with host Mark Chapman not at the helm for 5 Live Sport and Fighting Talk.

The Kammy & Ben’s Proper Football Podcast airs during Fighting Talk’s slot followed by The Footballer’s Football Podcast which plays on Radio 5 Live when 5 Live Sport would have aired.

Sunday’s MOTD is thrown into question after football pundit Jermain Defoe announces he will not appear.

The BBC apologises after it is forced to pull the sports programmes.

The Prime Minister says in a statement that the row is “a matter for them, not the Government” as he acknowledges “not everyone will always agree” with his new asylum policy.

Mr Davie, speaking to BBC News in Washington DC, apologises for the disruption caused to the broadcaster’s sports programming, but confirms he will not resign.

He praises Lineker as “the best in the business” and said he wants to find a “reasonable solution” to get him back on air.

Lineker is spotted at Leicester City’s game against Chelsea.

– Sunday March 12

Sunday’s MOTD 2 runs with a reduced format and is only 15 minutes long, while planned coverage of the Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Manchester United airs without a pre-match presentation.

Lineker’s eldest son, George, tells The Sunday Mirror he thinks his father will return to Match Of The Day – but that he will not “back down on his word”.

Monday March 13

Speculation that Lineker and the BBC are close to a resolution over the impartiality row begins to emerge.

Following the major disruption to sporting coverage over the weekend, there is “growing confidence” that Lineker will return to host MOTD, according to reports.

Later in the morning, the BBC announces it has reached a resolution with Lineker with a statement from Mr Davie.

The Director-General confirms that Lineker will continue as a BBC presenter after the corporation apologises for “potential confusion caused by the grey areas” of its social media guidelines.

An independent review of the BBC’s social media guidance is also announced, with further details to be confirmed in due course. Mr Davie notes that Lineker “is in favour of such a review”.

Following the news of the resolution, Lineker posts a series of tweets in which he says he is “delighted” to be returning to his MOTD presenting duties and thanks his colleagues at BBC Sport for “the remarkable show of solidarity”.

Lineker also appears to address the issue of migration again, saying his difficult weekend “doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away”.

He adds: “We remain a country of predominantly tolerant, welcoming and generous people. Thank you.”

In a separate tweet, Lineker also thanks Mr Davie for his “understanding” and said he is delighted to continue to “fight the good fight” with the Director-General.

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