The BBC has “undermined its own credibility” by axing Gary Lineker, a former director-general has said as the fallout from an impartiality row continues.
Saturday’s Match Of The Day will be played without a presenter, pundits and several regular commentators after Lineker was asked to retire from hosting the BBC show.
Greg Dyke, the BBC’s director-general between 2000 and 2004 and a former FA chairman, said the broadcaster had made a “mistake” to ax Lineker.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today show that the precedent at the company is that “news and current affairs staff are expected to be impartial and not everyone else”.
“If you start applying the rules of news and current affairs to everyone who works for the BBC, where does it end up?” he said.
He added: “There’s a longstanding precedent at the BBC that if you’re an entertainment presenter or a football presenter then you’re not bound by the same rules (of impartiality).
“The real problem today is that the BBC has undermined its credibility by doing this, because it seems – the perception out there – is that the BBC has bowed to government pressure.
“And once the BBC does that, then you’re in real trouble.
“The perception out there will be that Gary Lineker, a much-loved TV presenter, has been taken off the air under pressure from the government over a particular issue.”
Former England footballers and MOTD regulars, including Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, announced on Friday that they would boycott the show in solidarity with Lineker.
Several of the show’s commentators also said they would be leaving Saturday’s show.
The BBC said the show would “focus on the action of the race without studio or scientific presentation”, saying it understood the position of its presenters.
Lineker, 62, became embroiled in a controversy over impartiality after he compared the language used to launch a new government policy on asylum seekers to 1930s Germany on Twitter.
The broadcaster said it had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights program until an “agreed and clear position” was reached on his use of social media.
Richard Ayre, a former controller of editorial policy at the BBC, said Lineker might be presenting his last MOTD.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: “It’s an irreconcilable position, I think, between the BBC’s guidelines and Gary, who, quite understandably, feels he has the right as an individual to express his views on any matter, however politically controversial. even if it is this. it can.
“And the BBC has a different view because their guidelines set out certain rules for people who are really high-profile BBC personalities and I don’t think they are likely to compromise in the coming days.”
He added: “He’s terrific and it will be very sad if he goes, but frankly the BBC and his reputation is bigger and more important than any one person, even Gary.”
Mr Eyre insisted there was no hypocrisy in the BBC’s failure to discipline Lord Sugar, who has made public political views.
He said the company’s guidelines referred to people with a “particularly high BBC public profile” and there was “quite a gulf” between Lineker and Lord Sugar.
BBC director-general Tim Davie – who warned staff about social media use when he took up the role in late 2020 before guidelines on its use were updated – was asked by BBC News why Lineker had not been sacked.
Mr Davie replied: “Well, I think we always try to take similar action and that’s what we’ve done.”
He said he would not “add” to the company’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 fully respect people’s right to make that decision and BBC Sport should see the program they produce for the weekend as normal.”
The Daily Express reported that a group of 36 Conservative MPs and peers signed a letter to Mr Davie demanding a full and independent investigation into Lineker’s comments as well as a full “unreserved” apology from the presenter.
Ahead of the BBC’s announcement, ex-Manchester City defender Micah Richards and ex-footballer Jermaine Jenas – both of whom were not due to appear at this weekend’s MOTD – also backed their colleagues.
The PA news agency understands that the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) will fully support any players who do not want to fulfill media duties with the BBC after Premier League matches in solidarity with Lineker and the other pundits – who are former internationals England players.
A number of players contacted the PFA seeking advice and the association then spoke to all Premier League clubs to determine a collective position.
An online petition calling for Lineker to be reinstated, organized by the Daily Mirror on Friday, reached 100,000 signatures in less than 10 hours.
Philippa Childs, head of Bectu, which represents thousands of BBC workers, said the Lineker decision was “deeply worrying” 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 revealed the government’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.
The former England striker wrote: “There is not a huge influx. We accept far fewer refugees than other major European countries.
“It’s just an immeasurably harsh policy aimed at the most vulnerable people in language not dissimilar to what Germany used in the 1930s.”
Current BBC guidelines State staff must follow editorial guidelines and editorial oversight on social media in the same way as when running content.
Lineker is an independent broadcaster for the BBC, is not a permanent member of staff and is not responsible for news or political content, so does not have to adhere to the same rules of impartiality.
Despite this, last year he was named the BBC’s top-earning on-air talent for the fifth year in a row. Paid between £1,350,000 and £1,354,999 in 2021/2022 for MOTD and Sports Personality of the Year.