Gary Lineker, the former England captain and face of BBC football coverage, has been asked to stop hosting his flagship show Match of the Day after a dispute over his criticism of the government’s immigration policy. the corporation said Friday.
Lineker has been told there has to be an agreed position on his use of social media before he can return, the BBC said on Friday.
The dispute overshadowed a migration agreement reached between British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron, with the BBC accusing the BBC of caving in under political pressure.
“Gary Lineker off the air is an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure,” the opposition Labor Party said, calling on the BBC to reconsider its decision.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called the BBC’s move “indefensible”.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “Individual cases are a BBC matter.”
On Tuesday, Britain announced details of a new law that would prevent migrants arriving on small boats across the Channel from claiming asylum and being deported back to their homeland or to so-called safe third countries.
It drew criticism from opposition parties, charities and the UN refugee agency for its impact on genuine refugees.
Lineker, who previously hosted refugees at her home, retweeted a post with a video of Home Secretary Suella Braverman speaking about the new law, with the comment “OMG this is beyond horrible.”
When challenged by one respondent, he said: “There’s not a huge influx. We accept far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy targeting the most vulnerable people in language no different than that used by Germany.” in the 30s, and I’m out of commission?
He faced backlash to his comments, which were criticized by the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman Rishi Sunak as “unacceptable” and “disappointing”, but said he would “keep trying to speak for those poor souls who have no voice”.
The BBC said it had been in talks with Lineker and his team in recent days and decided it would stop hosting Match of the Day (MOTD) “until we have a clear and agreed position on their use of social media.” .”
The Bectu union, which represents thousands of BBC workers, said the corporation’s move was “deeply concerning”.
After four of the show’s regular pundits – former England players Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, Jermaine Jenas and Micah Richards – said they did not want to appear on the show without Lineker, the BBC said Saturday’s edition “will focus on the action of the party without presentation in the study or erudition”.
MOTD’s six commentators will appear later on Saturday’s show. tweeted a joint statement saying they had also withdrawn from Saturday’s broadcast, leaving BBC management to rely on World Feed for comment.
Lineker has hosted MOTD for more than 20 years and the charismatic 62-year-old has never been afraid to express his opinions on political issues.
The BBC said it considered Lineker’s recent social media activity to be in breach of its guidelines.
“We have never said that Gary should be an opinion-free zone, or that you cannot have an opinion on issues that matter to you, but we have said that you should stay away from taking sides on political party issues or political controversies,” he added.
Funded by what is in effect an annual £159 ($192) “licence fee” levy on all television-watching households, the BBC has a central presence in British cultural life. It says it is committed to being politically impartial.
Lineker, who during his career played for clubs including his hometown Leicester City, EvertonTottenham Hotspur and Spanish giants Barcelona, he is the BBC’s highest-paid personality, earning more than £1.3m in 2021/22.
Last year, the BBC’s complaints unit ruled that Lineker had failed to meet editorial standards for impartiality when he sent out a tweet asking whether the ruling Conservative Party would return money from Russian donors.
BBC Chairman Richard Sharp is under pressure for not declaring his role in facilitating a loan for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson shortly before he was appointed to the post. His appointment, made on the government’s recommendation, is now under review by Britain’s public appointments watchdog.