The BBC’s popular Premier League highlights show Match of the Day will air without a studio presenter or its regular roster of pundits after lead presenter Gary Lineker was asked to step back from coverage after breaking the broadcaster’s impartiality rules on Twitter.
The BBC announced the decision to pull Lineker back from the popular highlights show on Friday afternoon after “extensive discussions” with Lineker, in which the sports presenter was told that his tweet comparing UK government policy to Nazi Germany was unacceptable.
In response, a series of the show’s regular contributors, including former soccer players Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, and Alex Scott, announced that they would not appear on the show this weekend. With an effective presenters strike in motion, the BBC released a statement that said this week’s episode of Match of the Day would air without its regular studio segment. The episode will feature only match footage from Premier League games.
“Some of our pundits have said that they don’t wish to appear on the program while we seek to resolve the situation with Gary,” the BBC statement said. “We understand their position and we have decided that the program will focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry.”
In the now-controversial Tweet, Lineker railed at what he described as a “beyond awful” British government policy to stop small boats carrying asylum seekers from arriving on British shores.
Lineker added: “We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
Earlier on Friday, the BBC said Lineker was being benched while it figured out how the presenter can voice his views on social media in a way that is compatible with the corporation’s duty to impartiality. The news came despite Lineker telling his 8.7M Twitter followers on Thursday that he would be hosting Match of the Day as usual on Saturday. Lineker has repeatedly defended his original tweets.
Deadline reported earlier this week that BBC insiders were furious with Lineker for his “egregious” breach of impartiality rules. Some called for him to be suspended.
Lineker’s suspension has also prompted criticism of the BBC from across the political spectrum. On Friday, the opposition Labour party said the BBC’s decision was “cowardly” and an “assault on free speech in the face of political pressure.”
Broadcaster Piers Morgan said in a Tweet that Lineker’s suspension was “pathetically spineless.”
“WTF? How pathetically spineless.. I now demand the BBC suspend every presenter who has made public comment about news or current affairs – starting with Sir David Attenborough and Lord Sugar,” Morgan’s Tweet read.
Late Friday evening, Broadcasting union BECTU described Lineker’s suspension as “deeply concerning.”
A statement from BECTU head Philippa Childs read: “This is a deeply concerning decision from the BBC. It will give the appearance that they have bowed to political pressure from ministers to take someone off air for disagreeing with the policies of the current government.
“Taken with the ongoing controversy over the appointment of the BBC Chairman, who has a much more important role in upholding the reputation of the BBC, and who has not stepped back while under investigation, it also risks given the impression of double standards on these issues.”