Riot on the BBC: A row with Gary Lineker is heating up in Britain

  • The BBC has been forced to ax much of its Saturday sports coverage
  • Several leaders refuse to work to support Lineker
  • Controversy over comments on migration sparks debate on neutrality

LONDON, March 11 (Reuters) – Britain’s BBC was forced to scrap much of its sports coverage on Saturday after presenters refused to work in solidarity with Gary Lineker, as a row over free speech threatens to turn into a crisis for the national broadcaster.

Former England soccer captain Lineker, the BBC’s highest-paid presenter and host of soccer’s “Match of the Day,” was axed by the broadcaster on Friday after he criticized Britain’s migration policy earlier in the week.

Many sports programs were not broadcast as scheduled on Saturday after several presenters walked out, prompting the BBC to apologize to viewers.

“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon,” the broadcaster said in a statement.

The row over Lineker has fueled a debate about the BBC’s neutrality and pitted the government against one of the country’s most prominent and popular sports presenters.

Latest updates

See 2 more stories

Lineker refused to comment to the media as he left his home in London on Saturday, and did not answer questions from reporters upon arrival at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, where he had gone to watch his former club play.

The BBC is committed to political impartiality but now faces criticism from the opposition Labor Party and media commentators who accuse it of silencing Lineker in response to pressure from the Conservative government.

“The BBC is not acting impartially by pandering to Tory MPs who complain about Gary Lineker,” Labor leader Keir Starmer told reporters at a conference in Wales on Saturday.


The furor comes after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced new legislation earlier this week to ban asylum seekers arriving across the Channel in small boats.

Lineker, 62, described the law on Twitter as “a cruel policy aimed at the most vulnerable people in language not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s”.

Sunak’s spokeswoman called the comments “unacceptable”, while Home Affairs Minister Suella Braverman said Lineker’s reaction to the policy was “insulting”.

Seeking to resolve the dispute, the BBC said an agreement needed to be reached over Lineker’s use of social media before he could return to presenting.

But critics of Lineker’s suspension say he is entitled to his personal opinion because he is not hosting a news programme.

Greg Dyke, who was director-general of the BBC between 2000 and 2004, told BBC radio earlier on Saturday that the BBC was wrong to cut Lineker from the program because it gave the impression that the government could tell the broadcaster what to do.

“The popular perception will be that Gary Lineker, a much-loved TV presenter, has been taken off the show following government pressure on a particular issue,” he said.

That could turn viewers away from the 100-year-old BBC, which is funded by what is effectively a £159 ($192) annual “fee” tax on all TV-watching households.

While the broadcaster remains a central presence in British cultural life, it is struggling to stay relevant to younger audiences and faces future funding threats as some Conservative MPs want to scrap the license fee.

Saturday’s edition of “Match of the Day”, a show Lineker has hosted for more than 20 years, was due to air at its usual time despite his absence. The BBC said it would “focus on match action without studio presentation or opinion”.

Written by Sarah Young in London Additional reporting by Hritika Sharma and Aadi Nair in Bengaluru and Henry Nichols in London and Toby Melville in Leicester Editing by Hugh Lawson and Helen Popper

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Leave a Comment

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

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: