The BBC’s weekend football coverage has been thrown into chaos following the announcement that Gary Lineker would “step down” from presenting after he became embroiled in an impartiality spat when he criticized British government policies on Twitter.
The broadcaster is now facing a boycott from pundits, presenters and even players of its flagship football show “Match of the Day”, while other football programs – Football Focus and Final Score – and some radio programs have been forced to be taken off the air due to the furore.
Lineker criticized the government’s controversial new asylum seekers policy on Tuesday and was subsequently relieved of his presenting duties this week as the BBC said his tweets breached their guidelines, specifically its commitment to “due impartiality”.
The BBC’s decision has sparked controversy, drawing the organization under fire from opposition politicians, the Broadcasting Entertainment Communications and Theater Union representing the BBC’s staff, and former Director-General Greg Dyke.
“The BBC can only bring limited sports programming this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect that,” a BBC spokesman said in a statement on Saturday.
“We are sorry for these changes, which we recognize will be disappointing to BBC sports fans.
“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”
In an interview with BBC News on Saturday, the broadcaster’s director-general, Tim Davie, was asked if he should step down because of the crisis. He said he wouldn’t.
“I honestly don’t believe, despite a lot of commentary, that this is about left or right,” said Davie. The BBC is a “fierce champion of democratic debate, freedom of expression, but with it comes the need to create an impartial organisation,” he added.
When asked if he regretted the way he handled the situation, he said: “We made decisions and I made decisions based on a real passion for what the BBC is and it’s hard – it’s this balance between freedom of expression and impartiality.”
On Tuesday, Lineker tweeted “Good heavens this is beyond awful” accompanying a video posted to Twitter by the UK Home Office announcing the new proposed policy – an attempt to prevent migrant boats from France crossing the English Channel , which has been criticized by the United States. Nations and other global bodies.
He added: “There is not a huge influx. We are taking in far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy targeting the most vulnerable in a language not unlike that of Germany in the 1930s, and I’m not okay?
As Britain’s public service broadcaster, the BBC is bound by “due impartiality” – a much-debated term the organization describes as “consistently holding power to account” without “allowing ourselves to be used to campaign to change public policy”.
On Friday, the BBC announced that Lineker would “step back from presenting Match of the Day until we have an agreed and clear stance on his social media use”, adding that his recent social media activity was contrary to the guidelines.
In response, first pundits, then commentators and even Premier League teams announced their intention to boycott the show in support of Lineker.
BBC commentators Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Cowen and Steven Wyeth said in a joint statement issued late Friday “under the circumstances we do not feel it is appropriate to take part in the programme.”
Jermain Defoe, a former England striker, announced on Saturday that he would not appear as a pundit on the Sunday show.
“It is always such a privilege to work with BBC MOTD. But tomorrow I made the decision to resign from my investigative duties. @GaryLineker, “Defoe tweeted.
Defoe’s announcement appears to be the first sign that the British broadcaster’s Sunday television programs will also be affected.
Meanwhile, the Professional Football Association announced on Saturday, “players involved in today’s matches will not be asked to participate in Match of the Day interviews.”
“The PFA has spoken to members who wish to take a collective stand and show their support for those who have chosen not to be part of tonight’s programme,” the statement said.
“During those conversations we made it clear that as their union we would support all members who could face consequences if they choose not to meet their broadcasting obligations. This is a sensible decision that ensures that players do not end up in that position now.”
Following his side’s 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth on Saturday, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was asked about the BBC issue.
“I don’t see any reason why they would ask anyone to step back and say that. I’m not sure if that’s a language issue or not,” the German told reporters.
“If I understand correctly, then it is about an opinion about human rights and that should be possible.
“What I don’t understand is why everyone goes on Twitter and says something. I don’t understand the social media part of it, but that’s probably it [because] I’m too old for that.”
The BBC’s former director-general Greg Dyke said the broadcaster “undermined its own credibility” by suspending Lineker because it appeared it had “bowed to government pressure”.
Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer said the BBC “got these dead wrong and now they’ve been very, very exposed.”
The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “As a strong supporter of public broadcasting, I want to be able to defend the BBC. But the decision to take Gary Lineker off the air is indefensible. It undermines freedom of speech despite political pressure – and it always seems to be right-wing pressure to which it gives in.”
Opposition leader Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labor Party, also denounced the BBC’s decision in a tweet on Saturday.
“The BBC’s cowardly decision to remove Gary Lineker from the air is an attack on freedom of expression under political pressure from Tory politicians. They should reconsider,” she tweeted.
Meanwhile, Nadine Dorries, MP from the ruling Conservative Party and former culture minister, welcomed the BBC’s decision. tweet: “News that Gary Lineker has been withdrawn from investigation is welcome and shows that the BBC takes impartiality seriously.
“Gary is entitled to his opinion – freedom of speech is paramount. Many non-public broadcasters can accommodate him and his views and he would be better paid.”
For his part, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issued a statement on Saturday saying he hopes the situation between the BBC and its football star can be resolved, but that this is not a matter for the British government.