Saturday’s Match of the Day will air without a presenter, pundits or its regular commentators after the BBC’s controversial decision to take host Gary Lineker off the air.
Lineker has been forced off his Match of the Day duties by the BBC in a row over impartiality after comparing the language used to launch a new government asylum policy with 1930s Germany.
He is stepping back from Match Of The Day (MOTD) until an “agreed and clear position” on his social media use is made, the corporation said on Friday.
The BBC has also pulled its Football Focus show which was due to air on Saturday. Sky News understands Alex Scott’s decision to pull out of hosting caused the BBC to remove the show.
Sky Sports News understands the BBC’s Final Score programme will also not be broadcast.
Pundits and commentators revolt in ‘solidarity’ with Lineker
Former Arsenal striker and pundit Ian Wright said he will not take part in Saturday’s Match of the Day programme in “solidarity” with Lineker and former Newcastle and England striker Alan Shearer later also announced he would also not be taking part in the show.
Former Arsenal and England defender Scott ruled herself out of presenting Saturday’s Match of the Day, by tweeting: “FYI…” and a GIF which quotes “Nah! Not me”.
MOTD regulars Micah Richards and Jermaine Jenas also said they would not be appearing on this weekend’s show.
A BBC spokesperson said: “Some of our pundits have said that they don’t wish to appear on the programme while we seek to resolve the situation with Gary.
“We understand their position and we have decided that the programme will focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry.”
The BBC’s MOTD commentators have also decided not to work for the programme in a show of support for Lineker. Steve Wilson tweeted: “As commentators on MOTD, we have decided to step down from tomorrow night’s broadcast. We are comforted that football fans who want to watch their teams should still be able to do so, as management can use World Feed commentary if they wish.
“However, in the circumstances, we do not feel it would be appropriate to take part in the programme.”
No Premier League players will be asked for interviews on MOTD
Premier League players will not be asked to do interviews for the BBC’s Match of the Day on Saturday.
Instead, players will do interviews for BBC Radio.
A spokesman for the Professional Footballers Association said: “We have been informed that players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with Match of the Day.
“The PFA have been speaking to members who wanted to take a collective position and to be able to show their support for those who have chosen not to be part of tonight’s programme.
“During those conversations we made clear that, as their union, we would support all members who might face consequences for choosing not to complete their broadcast commitments.
“This is a common sense decision that ensures players won’t now be put in that position.”
BBC: Lineker should keep away from taking sides on political issues
Earlier on Friday, the BBC said Lineker will not present the show until an agreement is reached on his social media use, after he was embroiled in a row over impartiality by comparing the language used to launch a new government asylum policy with 1930s Germany.
The corporation said in a statement it has been in “extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days”.
“We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines,” the statement added.
“The BBC has 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 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.”
It comes after the presenter, 62, said on Thursday that he would be presenting Match of the Day on Saturday as usual after several days of intense criticism over his Twitter posts.
A tweet from Lineker had suggested he was not reprimanded by the BBC for his comments about the government’s new small boats policy despite criticism from some politicians.
“Well, it’s been an interesting couple of days,” he wrote on Thursday. “Happy that this ridiculously out of proportion story seems to be abating and very much looking forward to presenting @BBCMOTD on Saturday.
“Thanks again for all your incredible support. It’s been overwhelming.”
Lineker has faced criticism from Downing Street, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who accused him of “diminishing the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust, while former cabinet minister and Conservative MP Nadine Dorries welcomed the BBC’s decision, writing in a tweet: “It shows BBC are serious about impartiality.”
However, support has come from media figures including Piers Morgan and Sky News commentator Adam Boulton.
Labour has condemned the BBC’s “cowardly decision” to stand Lineker down. A Labour source 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.”
The BBC guidelines…
Gary Lineker signed a five-year deal with the BBC in 2020, under which he agreed to adhere to their updated impartiality rules.
The rules for news and current affairs journalists are very strict, with their personal accounts treated as if they are part of the BBC’s output.
Because Lineker works in the sports department, he has more freedom to express his own opinion, but under the guidelines must still “avoid bringing the BBC into disrepute”.
The BBC guidelines also states: “There are also others who are not journalists or involved in factual programming who nevertheless have an additional responsibility to the BBC because of their profile on the BBC. We expect these individuals to avoid taking sides on party political issues or political controversies and to take care when addressing public policy matters.”
Will Lineker ever present MOTD again?
Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol:
“The question is will he ever present Match of the Day again? Knowing Lineker, he is a man that stands by his principles. If the BBC are expecting him to apologise for something that he truly believes in, and he refuses to apologise, this is a stand-off that is going to end with him possibly leaving the BBC.
“There have been further developments with another regular face on Match of the Day in Ian Wright coming out and saying he will not be taking part in Match of the Day on Saturday night. Alan Shearer did the same, and also Alex Scott, Micah Richards and Jermaine Jenas.
“What is interesting is the people involved in making a show like Match of the Day are not just the people you see on screen. For instance, are the BBC commentators going to be working on Saturday? Are their reporters going to work? Or are they going to turn around and say we are not going to work, we stand in solidarity with Lineker? What about some of the technicians and the cameramen behind the scenes?
“If that happens then I think there is a possibility that the BBC might have to use the world feed of Premier League games or they may have to use the pictures used by Premier league productions, for instance. So, they do have options.
“But Match of the Day is going to look very different on Saturday night.”
Why is the focus on Lineker? What are the BBC guidelines?
More from Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol:
“Lineker signed a five-year deal with the BBC in 2020 and he agreed to adhere to their impartiality rules.
“Now, the rules are a little bit different depending on what area of the BBC you work in. For instance, if you work in news and current affairs as a journalist the rules are very strict. You have to be totally impartial.
“But of course, Lineker doesn’t work in news of current affairs. He works in the sports department so he has a little bit more freedom, but he still has to avoid bringing the BBC into disrepute, and as a high-profile figure on the BBC, he has additional responsibilities.
“According to the BBC, they expect these individuals to not take sides on party political issues or political controversies.
“A lot of people will be saying what about other people who appear on the BBC. Do they adhere to these rules?
“What about the chairman of the BBC himself, Richard Sharp, who is somebody who has donated £400,000 to the Conservative Party. He is somebody who has helped to arrange an £800,000 loan for the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“What about another member of the BBC board, Sir Robbie Gibb. He was of course the former communications director for Theresa May, the former Prime Minster.
“So, there are a lot of people coming to the support of Lineker and saying why is it that he is being picked on. Why are sections of the media and the press just focussing on Lineker? Why are we talking about Lineker when we should be talking about the government’s proposed new asylum policy, which has been criticised by human rights groups and it has been criticised and condemned by the United Nations.
“I was at the World Cup in Qatar. When it comes to criticising Qatar about human rights issues it appears that everybody is allowed to say what they want in this country. Lineker was allowed to criticise the human rights record of Qatar on the BBC but why is not allowed to comment on the human rights record of the country he lives in.