Gary Lineker will return as Match of the Day host after he was taken off air over his tweets criticising the government’s migration policy.
BBC director general Tim Davie apologised for the episode and announced an independent review into its social media usage guidelines.
In a statement, Mr Davie said: “Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences.
“I apologise for this.”
Davie also says it has been recognised that “grey areas” in the BBC social media guidance introduced in 2020 have the potential to cause “confusion”.
Sky Sports News understands Lineker has also received a direct private apology, which was not included in the BBC’s statement.
Lineker’s first assignment back on the BBC will be to present live coverage of the FA Cup quarter-final between Manchester City and Burnley on Saturday.
In a tweet, Lineker said he was “delighted that we have navigated a way through this” and paid tribute to “the remarkable show of solidarity”.
The BBC was forced to cancel some sports shows and offer reduced coverage of its flagship Match of the Day programmes when pundits and commentators refused to work.
The row over impartiality began after Lineker compared the language used to launch a new government asylum policy with 1930s Germany.
He was suspended by the BBC from presenting MOTD as they said in a statement he would “step back” from hosting the weekly football highlights programme.
Sky News understands Lineker had refuted this wording and that the corporation had instead forced him off air as he was unwilling to apologise for the comments he had made.
The BBC’s statement in full
Director-General of the BBC, Tim Davie:
“Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this. The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air.
“Impartiality is important to the BBC. It is also important to the public. The BBC has a commitment to impartiality in its Charter and a commitment to freedom of expression. That is a difficult balancing act to get right where people are subject to different contracts and on air positions, and with different audience and social media profiles. The BBC’s social media guidance is designed to help manage these sometimes difficult challenges and I am aware there is a need to ensure that the guidance is up to this task. It should be clear, proportionate, and appropriate.
“Accordingly, we are announcing a review led by an independent expert – reporting to the BBC – on its existing social media guidance, with a particular focus on how it applies to freelancers outside news and current affairs. The BBC and myself are aware that Gary is in favour of such a review.
“Shortly, the BBC will announce who will conduct that review. Whilst this work is undertaken, the BBC’s current social media guidance remains in place.
“Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary, and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend.”
Lineker’s statement in full
Gary Lineker’s response, posted on Twitter:
“After a surreal few days, I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this. I want to thank you all for the incredible support, particularly my colleagues at BBC Sport, for the remarkable show of solidarity. Football is a team game but their backing was overwhelming.
“I have been presenting sport on the BBC for almost three decades and am immeasurably proud to work with the best and fairest broadcaster in the world. I cannot wait to get back in the MOTD chair on Saturday.
“A final thought: however difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away. It’s heartwarming to have seen the empathy towards their plight from so many of you.
“We remain a country of predominantly tolerant, welcoming and generous people. Thank you.
“Also, I’d like to thank Tim Davie for his understanding during this difficult period. He has an almost impossible job keeping everybody happy, particularly in the area of impartiality. I am delighted that we’ll continue to fight the good fight, together.”
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.”
Chapman to return
Mark Chapman is due to host the Match of the Day highlights show later on Saturday night, the BBC has said.
The wider presenting line-up is yet to be confirmed, with many of Lineker’s BBC Sport colleagues walking out in “solidarity” at the weekend.
Chapman, who did not present either 5 Live’s Saturday coverage or Match of the Day 2 on Sunday, returned to air for the Monday Night Club, and opened by apologising to listeners for the lack of service over the weekend.
“This weekend has been miserable and difficult for everyone involved and to you the listener I am sorry that we didn’t bring you the usual service you would expect from us and I appreciate your patience,” he said. “If you are angry then I completely get that too.
“Most importantly I would personally like to acknowledge all those who work behind the scenes on 5 Live Sport and at BBC Sport, and those staff members who were on air who were put in difficult and uncomfortable positions through absolutely no fault of their own, and they have been at the receiving end of abuse for just doing their jobs.”
How did we get here?
It was a tumultuous weekend for the BBC and its football shows, notably Match of the Day on Saturday evening which had a much shorter airtime of 20 minutes, without commentary, pundit analysis, post-match interviews or theme music.
Pundits Ian Wright and Alan Shearer both announced they would not appear on Match of the Day, and a plethora of presenters, former footballers and commentators followed suit in not participating in the BBC’s weekend football shows.
Presenters who pulled out of BBC programmes over Lineker row
- Alex Scott – hosts Football Focus and other BBC football coverage
- Jason Mohammad – has presented Final Score since 2013
- Alan Shearer – former England footballer who has presented at the BBC on-and-off since 2006
- Ian Wright – another former England star who has presented at the BBC regularly since 2017
- Mark Chapman – the regular host of Match of the Day 2 on Sundays, as well as host of 5 Live Sports on Saturdays
- Kelly Somers – covers matches for BBC football shows, and was seen as a contender to host Football Focus
- Dion Dublin – Former Manchester United player and regular Football Focus pundit – alongside hosting duties for Homes Under The Hammer
- Colin Murray – a BBC Radio 5 Live mainstay and hosts the Fighting Talk show on the station
- Jermain Defoe – a regular pundit on Match of the Day 2
Meanwhile, Match of the Day 2 was only 14 minutes long on Sunday night. Jermain Defoe had previously announced he would not appear as a pundit on the show.
On BBC Two, the Women’s Super League Chelsea vs Manchester United match kicked off with no pre-match presentation and no pundits – it aired live using world feed commentary.
BBC Radio 5 Live programme schedules were also affected for a second day.