Gary Lineker suspension: Match of the Day 2 and Women’s Super League coverage to be ‘much reduced’ as BBC crisis deepens – live | BBC

MotD2 and WSL coverage will be ‘much reduced’ today, confirms BBC

The BBC has been forced to severely reduce a second day of sports programming amid a deepening row over the suspension of Gary Lineker.

The corporation said Match of the Day 2 and coverage of the Women’s Super League match between Manchester United and Chelsea would be “much reduced” on Sunday.

Key events

BBC forced to use world feed commentary for WSL fixture

Coverage of the Women’s Super League fixture between Chelsea and Manchester United has just got under way on BBC Two.

According to the TV guide, the action at Kingsmeadow in Kingston upon Thames – the former home of non-league side Kingstonian – was due to be presented by Reshmin Chowdhury.

Like many of her BBC Sport colleagues this weekend, there was no sign of Chowdhury as coverage began just five minutes before kick-off at 12.25pm with world feed commentator Nigel Adderley welcoming viewers “from around the world”.

Clearly the Beeb’s ability to produce and present its own coverage of live sport remains affected.

Curiously, the Match of the Day intro music at the top of the show was drowned out at times by the sound of Harry J All Stars’ Liquidator blaring out over the Kingsmeadow PA system.

Jamie Grierson

Jamie Grierson

What is the BBC’s social media policy and what does it mean for stars like Gary Lineker?

The former England striker’s post on Twitter criticising the government’s proposed asylum legislation has triggered a debate over the BBC’s impartiality rules – what they say and to whom they should apply.

Here is a brief explainer.

Josh Halliday

Josh Halliday

The BBC is expected to severely reduce a second day of sports programming amid a deepening row over the suspension of Gary Lineker.

The corporation is poised to cut back Match of the Day 2 and coverage of the Women’s Super League match between Manchester United and Chelsea after a mass walkout by BBC stars.

The broadcaster is facing its most serious crisis in years after a series of high-profile presenters, commentators and pundits refused to appear on air because of Lineker’s suspension for criticising the government’s immigration policy.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, called for the BBC’s chair, Richard Sharp, to resign to restore the perception of independence at the corporation.

On Gary Lineker’s attack on the government’s “stop the boats” policy, he said during an interview with BBC Breakfast that there were “criticisms to be levelled at the Conservatives”.

BBC chair Richard Sharp should quit over Gary Lineker row, says Ed Davey– video

The BBC’s analysis editor Ros Atkins has tweeted a video of Gary Lineker being interviewed in 2021 about his views on the refugee crisis and BBC impartiality.

This 3 minute clip from 2021 is still being widely shared. It’s helpful if you want to understand how Gary Lineker feels about the issue of refugees, about his relationship with the BBC – and about the idea of the BBC telling him what he can and can’t tweet.

— Ros Atkins (@BBCRosAtkins) March 12, 2023

A former BBC executive has described Gary Lineker as a “brilliant” broadcaster but questioned if he has outgrown his role at the BBC.

Peter Salmon, who among his many roles was previously the controller of BBC One and director of sport, said the fallout from the impartiality row surrounding the former England footballer was a “mess” and he felt that the director general, Tim Davie, needs to get a grip of the situation.

Discussing Lineker’s role while on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Salmon said:

It’s complex and he’s a major figure. Twenty-five years in Match of the Day – he’s more than just a TV presenter, he’s a national figure.

He’s got views, he’s got passions, he’s been involved in looking after Ukrainian refugees. It may be that Gary’s outgrown the job and the role in the BBC.

Twenty-five years in, before that Des Lynam, Gary took over, he’s been brilliant. Sometimes there’s a point at which you cross the line.

Reflecting on the disruption to the BBC’s sports schedule this weekend due to pundits walking out in solidarity with Lineker, he added:

It’s a mess, isn’t it? They must be wishing they could reel back 72 hours and start all over again. It’s Oscars day but there’s no awards for how this has been managed.

I think they’ve got to take action pretty quickly. It doesn’t help the chairman of the BBC himself is slacked to one side in this process and there’s a bit of an issue. Tim Davie is isolated in some ways, he needs to come home and grip this now. We need him back running the ship.

MotD2 and WSL coverage will be ‘much reduced’ today, confirms BBC

The BBC has been forced to severely reduce a second day of sports programming amid a deepening row over the suspension of Gary Lineker.

The corporation said Match of the Day 2 and coverage of the Women’s Super League match between Manchester United and Chelsea would be “much reduced” on Sunday.

The BBC wants to “pick and choose” when its presenters can be impartial, the former England footballer John Barnes has said.

Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Barnes said: “I don’t know when the BBC has ever been impartial but BBC reporting on the World Cup was anything but impartial.”

He added:

So, it seems that they want to pick and choose when they want to be partial, criticising others or criticising other countries or other political parties or other religions seems to be OK.

But, of course, if you then criticise what goes on in this country, then it seems that they will then come up with the impartiality rule.

The BBC “by and large” gets impartiality “mostly right”, Philip Hammond has said.

The former Tory MP and chancellor under Theresa May told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday:

There’s two things struck me really in this debate. We’re in danger of confusing two separate issues. There’s the impartiality of the BBC, which is a very important principle, of course, for a public service broadcaster, and I think probably, by and large, the BBC usually gets it mostly right.

I know that because people in my party feel that the BBC is institutionally biased against it, and I know that people in the Labour party equally feel that the BBC is institutionally biased against it, so it’s probably doing something about right.

Then there’s a separate issue about whether individuals who are closely associated with large corporations can publicly express views which are highly controversial and are not the views of that corporation. I think, generally speaking, that is not acceptable.

It’s even more important when the corporation is a public body, like the BBC, or indeed the civil service. The same would be true of a senior civil servant tweeting out something that was highly controversial.

Match of the Day viewing figures unaffected by Lineker absence last night

Jim Waterson

Jim Waterson

Match of the Day viewing figures were unaffected by the absence of Gary Lineker on Saturday night.

The shortened 20-minute version of the show had no commentary, presenters, or pundits after staff walked out in solidarity with its host Gary Lineker. Even the show’s theme music was dropped, as the BBC dealt with the fallout after suspending its highest-paid star.

Yet the peak audience for the shortened set of Premier League highlights was exactly the same as the previous week’s episode at 2.6 million viewers.

The previous week’s episode, before Lineker created a pan-BBC crisis by tweeting about the government’s refugee policy, had a lower average audience than the curtailed version. This is because not all viewers stayed around for the full length of the programme to watch all the matches and analysis.

The show was broadcast with match footage only with no commentary or studio discussion.
The show was broadcast with match footage only with no commentary or studio discussion. Photograph: BBC

The official Barb audience figures, provided by Digital-I, do not include catch-up viewing or the audience for the popular Sunday morning repeat of Match of the Day. Some viewers that who in to gawp at the spectacle of a presenter-less Match of the Day may not return in future weeks.

The corporation saw most of its football coverage taken off air on Saturday as presenters walked out in solidarity with Lineker.

The Labour MP Nadia Whittome said Gary Lineker was right to criticise the illegal migration bill.

Whittome told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme:

I think, firstly, Gary Lineker was right to call out the government’s bill and I think, yes, he works for the BBC and it’s important that the BBC is impartial, but as you say he’s a sports presenter not a news presenter, and if we’re going to talk about impartiality let’s talk about the fact that the BBC chairman donated £400,000 to the Conservative party and arranged an £800,000 loan to Boris Johnson.

What I think we mustn’t be distracted by is from the bill itself, which is what Gary Lineker was drawing attention to because the government is trying to play divide and rule, pure and simple, by criminalising asylum seekers and, in the process, risking breaking international law.

Pressed on what she thought about Lineker’s comparison with 1930s Germany, the MP said:

I think the point that he was making was about the cruelty of this bill.

When you think about the kind of wider picture with the government, you would have thought, wouldn’t you, that they’d have learned not to have picked fights with footballers after Marcus Rashford forced them to U-turn on free school meals, and now this with Gary Lineker, and now we’re all talking about the government’s cruel asylum policy.

Tory MPs ‘put pressure’ on BBC to suspend Lineker, says Labour

The shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has criticised Tory MPs for “putting pressure” on the BBC to take Gary Lineker off air.

She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “I wouldn’t have used the language that Gary Lineker used. But do I think he should be taken off TV from doing commentary on the football? No, I don’t. And I think that was out of proportion.”

She said Tory MPs had nothing to say when the BBC chairman, Richard Sharp, was found to have helped facilitate a loan for Boris Johnson.

Reeves added:

The people who I think are at fault here are the Conservative MPs and ministers who lined up to criticise Gary Lineker, putting pressure on the BBC to take him off air.

That is the priority now of the Conservatives – some culture war, rather than the interests and the concerns of people in their day-to-day lives. That is just all wrong.

The Conservative MP Simon Clarke said he disagrees “very profoundly” with what Gary Lineker said in the tweet that sparked the row.

Speaking on BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Clarke said: “I disagree very profoundly with what Gary Lineker said. I think the comparisons to 1930s as he’s made are deeply inappropriate and actually very tasteless.”

Asked why it matters what a sports presenter says, the MP replied:

Mr Lineker has a huge reach and the reality is that he is obviously operating on a publicly funded broadcaster, he is someone whose platform largely derives from his role at the BBC, he’s saying things which are partisan and I think which are also deeply unfair.

He called the situation a “mess” and said the BBC needed to resolve “ambiguity” in its guidelines.

Clarke continued:

I don’t like cancel culture of any kind, I don’t like to see people being taken off air.

I think there is a slight irony here and a slight hypocrisy because obviously I wonder how many of the same people calling for Gary Lineker to be restored were calling for Jeremy Clarkson a few weeks ago to be removed.

Mark Thompson, the former director general of the BBC, has called for “calm” and said Gary Lineker technically breached the BBC’s impartiality guidelines.

Speaking to Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, he said he hoped Lineker and the BBC could block out the “crazy noise in the papers” and find “common ground” to resolve the deepening row.

He said:

I would say on the face of it Gary Lineker’s tweet looks like a technical breach of [the] guideline but I think we’ve also got our old friend the grey area here.

In other words, no one thinks this is the same as you or Huw Edwards doing it. This is not like a news presenter basically tearing up the impartiality principles inside the kind of news machine.

The debate, and one of the reasons I think Tim Davie and others at the BBC will want to have a look at that guideline, is in social media public expectation and practice is changing all the time now.

What I would hope is both Gary, who is an outstanding broadcaster, and the BBC will both, despite the kind of crazy noise in the papers and all the rest of it, calmly take the time to look at whether there is common ground and a way forward.

Thompson was director general at the BBC between 2004 and 2012 and dealt with his own share of controversies at the network, including prank phone calls made by comedians Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand.

Asked if he thinks Richard Sharp should “decide to step aside for a while” until his links to Boris Johnson are fully investigated, he added:

The chairman of the BBC is not an operational executive … Richard Sharp is part of a governing body which doesn’t take decisions in real time.

BBC chairman should resign to restore perception of independence, says Davey

Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has called for the resignation of the BBC’s chairman, Richard Sharp, to restore the perception of independence at the organisation.

Speaking on the BBC’s own Breakfast programme, Davey said the Tory government had been “undermining” the national broadcaster “over a number of years”.

He said:

The BBC is a great British institution. Its trusted news is important for our country, our democracy and also for the world and that’s why its independence is so crucial.

I’m afraid the Conservative government has been undermining the BBC over a number of years now, not least with its appointments. For example, the current chair Richard Sharp.

What we’ve seen in this Gary Lineker episode, we’ve seen 36 Conservative MPs write to the BBC essentially asking for Gary Lineker to be punished.

That was wrong … and if we’re going to draw a line and restore particularly the perception of the independence of the BBC, I think we need to take some real strong measures.

I think the chairman of the BBC, Richard Sharp, should resign.

He added that Sharp was an appointment of Boris Johnson and, as a previous Tory party donor, he helped facilitate a financial loan for the former prime minister.

Asked if Lineker was wrong to tweet political opinions in the first place, Davey said:

I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the words he chose to use but some of the sentiments behind the government’s shocking policies and the words that people like the home secretary have used, there are criticisms to be levied at the Conservatives.

Jeremy Hunt: ‘People’s confidence in the impartiality of the BBC should be restored’

The chancellor said “people’s confidence” should be restored in knowing the BBC has no “political agenda”, when he was asked about the Gary Lineker row.

Jeremy Hunt, speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News, said he “personally profoundly disagrees” with the comments the TV pundit made.

But, he said, “we need to make sure that what comes out of this is that people’s confidence in the impartiality of the BBC is restored”.

He denied that the public’s confidence in this had been compromised by the dispute, adding:

The central thing that people want to know is that there isn’t any kind of political agenda in the way the BBC goes about its business, which I’m not saying there is, but that is the confidence people need to have.

Asked if he still believed the TV pundit should apologise, he added:

I don’t agree with his comments and I personally think that he was wrong to say what he said, but I don’t think it’s for me to decide how that issue is resolved.

If you believe in BBC independence, then it’s not for the chancellor or any other government minister to say how these issues are resolved.

Asked whether the corporation’s leadership was too close to the party of government, Hunt said it was not for him “to make those judgments”.

Sunday papers dominated by Lineker BBC storm

Rather predictably, the front pages of today’s newspapers focus on the ongoing dispute between Gary Lineker and the BBC, as well as the impact the row is having on the national broadcaster’s ability to cover sport.

Sunday’s Observer says the issue threatens to topple the Beeb’s top brass and could even hit the Tory government’s asylum plans.

The Sunday Mirror runs with those comments from the presenter’s son that he will “never back down”.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday People have all splashed on the mounting pressure on the BBC to resolve its crisis.

The Mail on Sunday reports that Rishi Sunak has “hit back” over the row, and it features a comment piece crowing that “millions must disagree” with Lineker’s immigration stance.

And finally, here are the front pages of the Sunday Express, the Independent (digital) and the Daily Star Sunday for good measure.

Match of the Day review – without Lineker, this is just 20 minutes of shameful, joyless TV

Jack Seale

Jack Seale

‘Gary Lineker’s the best in the business,” said the BBC director general, Tim Davie, on Saturday, during a hostile interview with his own organisation in which he insisted he would not resign. “That’s not for debate.”

An eerily simplified edition of Match of the Day, truncated to just 20 minutes in length, underlined his point.

Only 32 hours previously, viewers had been expecting the best football highlights programme there has ever been to appear as normal. Its host, Lineker, had been criticised by government ministers and their media outriders for tweeting that the Conservatives’ dehumanising language about refugees was reminiscent of 1930s Germany, but the storm would surely blow over soon.

Then, however, the BBC pulled out a shotgun and aimed it shoewards. On Friday afternoon, it announced it had suspended Lineker for breaching impartiality guidelines.

When the regular MotD analyst Ian Wright posted that he had chosen not to participate in the programme in “solidarity” with Lineker, it sparked the wildest few hours on Twitter since David Cameron was accused of porking a pig. By the end of the evening, every possible replacement host and pundit had tweeted to rule themselves out of filling in, the show’s commentators had pulled out en masse, and even the players’ union had said there wouldn’t be any post-match interviews.

So it was that, the following night, with the BBC now deep in crisis, an embarrassed continuity announcer was forced to intone, “Now on BBC One, we’re sorry that we’re unable to show our normal Match of the Day … ”

Lineker row continues as son says presenter ‘won’t ever back down’

Good morning. The row over Gary Lineker’s suspension reached new heights last night as the BBC was forced to scale down its TV and radio sports coverage.

The national broadcaster had to put Match of the Day (MotD) – usually fronted by Lineker – on air without presenters, pundits or the normal post-match interviews with players, many of whom came out in solidarity with him.

The show, scheduled for 80 minutes, aired for just 20 minutes on Saturday night with no commentary or analysis.

It comes as Lineker’s son said he thinks the sports presenter will return to the show – but said that he would not “back down on his word”, according to reports.

In an interview with the Sunday Mirror, the former England player’s eldest son, George, said his father had been “a bit disappointed” by the BBC asking him to step back from hosting Saturday’s MotD after he compared the language used to launch a new government asylum seeker policy to that of 1930s Germany.

George Lineker said:

Dad is a good man, a good human, and I’m proud of him for standing by his word. That’s why he was pulled off the show – because he wouldn’t apologise. But he will always speak up for people who don’t have a voice.

He is passionate about helping refugee charities – he took in two refugees who he is still in touch with and trying to help.

It means a lot to him to stand up for people whose only hope is to escape a country with only the clothes on their back. That’s why he’s been so firm.

Will he go back to Match of the Day? I think so – he loves Match of the Day. But he won’t ever back down on his word.