BBC crisis escalates as players and stars rally behind Lineker

LONDON — The BBC was forced to cancel much of its sports program at the weekend as the network tried to stem the escalating crisis over the suspension of football host Gary Lineker for comments criticizing the British government’s new asylum policy.

English Premier League presenters, pundits and players rallied behind Lineker by boycotting the airwaves on Saturday as Britain’s national broadcaster was accused of political bias and stifling free speech and won praise from conservative politicians.

The broadcaster said it would only broadcast “limited sports programming” this weekend after the presenters of many of its popular sports shows refused to appear in solidarity with Lineker. The former England captain was kicked off ‘Match of the Day’, a popular football show, after criticizing the government’s plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat in a Twitter post that compared lawmakers’ language on immigration with the one used in the Nazis. Germany.

Instead of blanket Saturday coverage of the world’s most popular league, the BBC had no radio or TV preview shows and no early evening summaries of the final scores of Premier League matches. Midday TV program ‘Football Focus’ was replaced with a repeat episode of the antiques show ‘Bargain Hunt’, while early evening ‘Final Score’ was replaced with ‘The Repair Shop’.

“Match of the Day” — the late-night program that has been a British institution for 60 years — was cut from the usual hour and a half of highlights and analysis to a 20-minute compilation of highlights from the day’s matches, without commentary. or scientists — just cheers and jeers from stadium crowds for a soundtrack.

There will also be no player interviews after the game. The Professional Footballers’ Association said some players wanted to boycott the show and therefore “players involved in today’s matches will not be invited to take part in interviews on ‘Match of The Day'”.

The union said it was a “common sense solution” to avoid players facing penalties for breaching their broadcasting commitments.

The BBC said it “regrets these changes which we recognize will be disappointing for fans of BBC sport. We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak even stood up and urged Lineker and the BBC to settle their dispute.

“Gary Lineker was a great footballer and he is a talented presenter. I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in time, but it is rightly a matter for them, not the government,” he said.

Lineker, 62, was a household name in Britain even before he became the main presenter of ‘Match of the Day’ in 1999.

One of English football’s most lauded players, he was the top scorer at the 1986 World Cup and finished his international career with 48 goals in 80 games for England.

After retiring from a career that included spells at Barcelona, ​​Tottenham, Everton and Leicester, Lineker became one of the UK’s most influential media figures and the BBC’s highest-paid star, earning £1.35 million (1, 6 million dollars) last year.

An avid social media user with 8.7 million Twitter followers, Lineker has long angered centre-right politicians and activists with his liberal views, including criticism of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The latest controversy began with a tweet on Tuesday from Lineker’s account describing the government’s plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat as “an incredibly harsh policy aimed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to what used by Germany in the 1930s. .”

The Conservative government called Lineker’s Nazi comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some lawmakers said he should be fired.

In his statement, Sunak doubled down on the government’s plan to prevent people from making dangerous journeys across the Channel in small boats, saying it was the only way to “break this cycle of misery once and for all”.

On Friday, the BBC said Lineker would “step down” from Match of the Day until he had “an agreed and clear position on his use of social media”. Lineker has yet to comment publicly and on Saturday traveled to his hometown of Leicester to watch Leicester City play Chelsea in the Premier League. He was greeted with cheers from the crowd as he arrived for a match which Chelsea won 3-1.

The 100-year-old BBC, which is funded by a license fee paid by all households with a television, has a duty to be impartial in its news coverage and BBC news staff are prohibited from expressing political views.

Lineker, as a freelancer who does not work in news or current affairs, is not bound by the same rules and has sometimes pushed the boundaries of what the BBC considers acceptable. Last year, the BBC found Lineker breached impartiality rules with a tweet about alleged Russian donations to the Conservatives.

The BBC’s neutrality has come under recent scrutiny following revelations that its chairman, Richard Sharpe – a Conservative Party donor – helped arrange a loan for then-prime minister Boris Johnson in 2021, weeks before Sharpe was appointed to the BBC job on the government’s recommendation .

Former BBC director-general Greg Dyke said the network had “undermined its own credibility” by appearing to bow to government pressure.

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labor Party, said the BBC was “caving in” to political pressure from Tory lawmakers.

“They got it very wrong and now they are very, very exposed,” he said. ___

AP Sports writer Steve Douglas contributed to this story


More AP soccer: and

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *