Star soccer compere likens UK government to Nazis and sparks BBC on-air crisis
The BBC is facing a commentators’ revolt after suspending former soccer star and programme host Gary Lineker for comments likening the British government’s new asylum policy to those of Nazi Germany.
As a growing number of Premier League players and presenters rallied to Lineker’s support, Britain’s national broadcaster was forced to rip up its radio and TV sports schedule on Saturday and answers allegations of political bias and suppressing free speech.
The broadcaster said it would air only “limited sport programming” over the weekend after hosts of many of its popular sports shows declined to appear, in solidarity with Lineker.
He was suspended from “Match of the Day,” the iconic soccer highlights show, over a Twitter post that compared lawmakers’ language about migrants to that used in Nazi Germany.
Instead of blanket coverage of the most popular league in the world, the BBC had no preview shows on radio or TV.
Soccer fans tuning for “Match of the Day”, which has been a British institution for 60 years, will likely get match coverage from the same feed used by broadcasters around the world instead of BBC’s own commentators.
And there was to be no studio punditry from some of the most high-profile stars in the British game as former England strikers Ian Wright and Alan Shearer led the boycott.
There will not be any post-match player interviews, either. The Professional Footballers’ Association said some players wanted to boycott the show as a gesture of support.
The union said it was a “common sense solution” to avoid players facing sanctions for breaching their broadcast commitments.
The BBC said it was “sorry for these changes which we recognise will be disappointing for BBC sport fans. We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said he could not understand the BBC’s decision to stand down Gary Lineker from presenting Match of the Day, insisting it should be possible for people to express their opinions.
Lineker, 62, was a household name in Britain even before he became chief “Match of the Day” presenter in 1999.
One of English soccer’s most lauded players, he was the leading scorer at the 1986 World Cup and finished his international career with 48 goals in 80 matches for England.
After retiring from a career that included stints with Barcelona, Tottenham, Everton and Leicester, Lineker has become one of the U.K.’s most influential media figures and the BBC’s best-paid star, earning Stg 1.35 million pounds ($2.47 million).
An enthusiastic social media user with 8.7 million Twitter followers, Lineker has long irked right-of-centre politicians and activists with his liberal views, including criticism of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
How it played out
The latest controversy began with a tweet on Tuesday from Lineker’s account describing the government’s plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat as “an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
The Conservative government called Lineker’s Nazi comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some lawmakers said he should be fired.
On Friday, the BBC said Lineker would “step back” from “Match of the Day” until “we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.”
Lineker has yet to comment publicly, and on Saturday went to his hometown to watch Leicester City host Chelsea. He was greeted with cheers from bystanders as he arrived.
Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said the BBC was “caving in” to political pressure from Conservative lawmakers.
“They got this one badly wrong and now they’re very, very exposed,” he said.