UK, March 11, (BBC/GNA) – Gary Lineker has been told to step back from presenting Match of the Day until an agreement is reached on his social media use, the BBC has said.
It follows an impartiality row over comments he made criticising the government’s new asylum policy.
The BBC said it considered Lineker’s “recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines”.
It added he should “keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies”.
The BBC asked Lineker to step back after “extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days”.
It “decided that he will step back from presenting Match of the Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media”, the statement said.
It continued: “When it comes to leading our football and sports coverage, Gary is second to none.
“We have never said that Gary should be an opinion free zone, or that he can’t have a view on issues that matter to him, but we have said that he should keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies.”
The move has led to Saturday’s Match of the Day going ahead without presenters or pundits – as one by one contributors ruled themselves out.
First, Ian Wright said he would not appear in “solidarity”, tweeting: “Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity.”
Alan Shearer, who also presents on the show, said he had “informed the BBC that I won’t be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night”.
They were followed shortly after by contributors Jermaine Jenas and Micah Richards who both said that while they were not due to work on Saturday’s programme, they would not have appeared. Ex-England player Alex Scott also indicated she would not go on the show.
The BBC said the programme would instead “focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry”.
Lineker has not yet publicly commented but while presenting 5News earlier, former BBC presenter Dan Walker read out a text live on air from the 62-year-old.
Walker said he had messaged Lineker asking: “What is happening. Are you stepping back?”
He said he had received a reply saying: “No, they’ve [the BBC] told me I have to step back.”
On Tuesday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman outlined the government’s plans to ban people arriving in the UK illegally from ever claiming asylum, in a bid to address a rise in the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats.
Lineker reacted to it on Twitter calling it an “immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.
Ms Braverman hit out at Lineker’s tweet, saying it “diminishes the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust.
Speaking on the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast, the home secretary said the Nazi comparison was “lazy and unhelpful” and said her family “feel very keenly the impact of the Holocaust” as her husband is Jewish.
Many opposition MPs and charities also strongly objected to the government’s plans.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended the proposals saying stopping the arrival of small boats is a “priority” for the British people.
Richard Ayre, former controller of editorial policy at the BBC, who also served as a member of the regulator Ofcom’s content board, said the corporation had “no choice” but to take action against Lineker after his tweets criticising the government’s asylum policy.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, he said: “I think it was inevitable. He [Lineker] has the letters BBC written across his forehead and yet he’s plunged right into the most controversial story of the day.”
He said BBC Director General Tim Davie had “clearly tried” to reach an agreement with Lineker but failed, adding: “It’s inevitable now that having in effect not sacked him but removed him temporarily at least, the BBC will now come under a torrent of criticism saying it’s acting under the government’s behest.”
A Labour source told the BBC that the corporation should “rethink their decision”.
It said: “The BBC’s cowardly decision to take Gary Lineker off air is an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure.
“Tory politicians lobbying to get people sacked for disagreeing with government policies should be laughed at, not pandered to. The BBC should rethink their decision.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called the BBC’s decision “indefensible”. Writing on Twitter, she said the corporation was “undermining free speech in the face of political pressure – and it does always seem to be right-wing pressure it caves to”.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said in a statement: “Individual cases are a matter for the BBC.”
Lineker has hosted Match of the Day since 1999 and is the BBC’s highest paid star, having earned about £1.35m in 2020-21.
He is employed by the BBC on a freelance basis.
The ex-footballer has previously housed asylum seekers and publicly called for better rights and protections for refugees. He has also been critical of successive Conservative governments over issues including Brexit.
His comments have attracted widespread support on social media, with one tweet getting 235,000 likes.