The fallout from the BBC's decision to take Gary Lineker off Match of the Day spills into another day, ITV News' Graham Stothard reports
A tweet made by professional footballer turned pundit Gary Lineker has spiralled into an impartiality row with the BBC and caused to hours of sports coverage being taken off air.
The saga was sparked by Lineker criticising the Government's Illegal Immigration Bill lead to the BBC removing him as presenter of weekend football highlights show Match of The Day.
This sparked a mass boycott from sports presenters and footballers alike, who chose not to appear in the broadcaster's sports coverage in solidarity with their colleague.
Many people have weighed-in on the debate, including BBC regulars Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and Alex Scott, as well as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The BBC has apologised for the lack of sports coverage, with the Director General Tim Davie saying on Saturday “To be clear, success for me is: Gary gets back on air and together we are giving to the audiences that world-class sports coverage which, as I say, I’m sorry we haven’t been able to deliver.”
From Lineker's first tweet, to the latest updates on whether he will return to screens, here is a timeline of events so far:
Tuesday March 7
Lineker commented on a Twitter video put out by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, in which she unveiled government plans to stop migrant boats crossing the Channel.
“Good heavens, this is beyond awful,” he wrote.
He added: “There is no huge influx. 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, and I’m out of order?”
Wednesday March 8
Lineker tweeted again: “I have never known such love and support in my life than I’m getting this morning (England World Cup goals aside, possibly). I want to thank each and every one of you. It means a lot. I’ll continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice. Cheers all.”
The Prime Minister’s press secretary told reporters it was “disappointing” to see “that kind of rhetoric” from someone whose salary is paid by the licence fee but said it was “up to the BBC” to take it forward.
Piers Morgan defended Lineker in a Talk TV monologue put out on Wednesday, saying he had “no problem” with a football presenter giving personal views.
Thursday March 9
Lineker told reporters outside his home in Barnes, south-west London, that he did not fear suspension over his tweets and that he stood by his comments.
Gary Lineker was asked by reporters if he regretted his tweet, responding “no” and asked if he stood by it he said “course”
The sports presenter took to Twitter again, posting: “Well, it’s been an interesting couple of days. 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.”
On the same social media site, he later responded to House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt after she accused Labour of borrowing from his “playbook” by being the “party of goal hangers”.
He tweeted: “Thank you for mentioning me in your clumsy analogy. I’m just happy to have been better in the 6 yard box than you are at the dispatch box. Best wishes.”
Ms Braverman told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast that she found Lineker’s comments “offensive” because her husband is Jewish.
She said: “To kind of throw out those kind of flippant analogies diminishes the unspeakable tragedy that millions of people went through and I don’t think anything that is happening in the UK today can come close to what happened in the Holocaust.”
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said it is important for the BBC to maintain impartiality if it is to “retain the trust of the public who pay the licence fee”.
She added: “As somebody whose grandmother escaped Nazi Germany in the 1930s, I think it’s really disappointing and inappropriate to compare government policy on immigration to events in Germany in the 1930s.”
Friday March 10
The BBC announced Lineker will “step back” from presenting Match Of The Day (MOTD) until the corporation could agree a position on his use of social media.
This triggered a series of football pundits and presenters to pull out of BBC programming in “solidarity”.
Ian Wright tweeted: “Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity.”
Alan Shearer posted: “I have informed the BBC that I won’t be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night.”
Former Manchester City defender Micah Richards and ex-footballer Jermaine Jenas – neither of whom were due to appear this weekend on MOTD – also backed their fellow pundits.
Retired England goalkeeper Ben Foster and Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling both expressed their support for the move.
In reaction, a BBC spokesperson announced that Saturday’s MOTD would focus on match action “without studio presentation or punditry”.
BBC director-general Tim Davie told BBC News that there had been “very constructive discussions”.
Late on Friday evening several of the show’s commentators shared a joint statement online, announcing they would also be stepping down from Saturday’s broadcast.
The statement was shared by MOTD commentators including Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Rowen and Steven Wyeth.
Rishi Sunak defended the immigration bill and said he hopes people will realise that it is the “right approach” after he was asked whether the “Linekers of the world” will realise they have “got it wrong”.
Viewers announced on Twitter that they had cancelled their TV licence fee in response to a day of controversy for the BBC.
Saturday March 11
MOTD aired for only 20 minutes on Saturday without accompanying commentary or analysis from pundits.
Football Focus and Final Score were pulled from the BBC schedules at the last moment, replaced by Bargain Hunt and The Repair Shop respectively.
Football Focus presenter and former Arsenal star Alex Scott said “it doesn’t feel right for me to go ahead with the show”.
Kelly Somers also confirmed she will not be presenting any BBC show on Saturday, while former Brighton striker Glenn Murray pulled out of appearing on the two shows.
Welsh presenter Jason Mohammad also confirmed he would not be hosting Final Score on Saturday afternoon.
BBC Radio 5 Live was similarly affected, with host Mark Chapman not at the helm for 5 Live Sport and Fighting Talk.
The Kammy & Ben’s Proper Football Podcast aired during Fighting Talk’s slot followed by The Footballer’s Football Podcast which played on Radio 5 Live when 5 Live Sport would have aired.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said he could not understand the BBC's decision around Gary Lineker - insisting it should be possible for people to express their opinions.
Klopp said: "I’m not native but I cannot see why you would ask someone to step back for saying that... If you don’t do that then you create a s***storm, it is a really difficult world to live in."
Sunday’s MOTD was thrown into question after football pundit Jermain Defoe announced he would not appear.
The BBC apologised after it was forced to pull the sports programmes.
Rishi Sunak said in a statement the row is “a matter for them, not the Government” as he acknowledged “not everyone will always agree” with his new asylum policy.
Mr Davie, speaking to BBC News in Washington DC, apologised for the disruption caused to the broadcaster’s sports programming, but confirmed he will not resign.
He praised Lineker as “the best in the business” and said he wants to find a “reasonable solution” to get him back on air.
Sunday March 12:
Sunday’s MOTD 2 is expected to run with a reduced format while planned coverage of the Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Manchester United will air without a pre-match presentation.
When questioned by reporters outside his home, Lineker told them, "I can't say anything".
His eldest son George told The Sunday Mirror he thinks his father will return to Match Of The Day – but that he would not “back down on his word”.
He also tweeted: “Proud of the old man after a busy few days.
“Shouldn’t need to apologise for being a good person and standing by his word.
“The reaction of the public has been overwhelming. Thanks for the support.”
People have been leaving letters and cards outside Lineker's home, including one man who left a box of chocolates and a thank you card.
Chris Hoydon, 42, who lives nearby, left raspberry and champagne truffles and a card for the former England footballer and Match Of The Day pundit.
The BBC reported talks with Gary Lineker are “moving in the right direction”.
It added there “are hopes of a resolution soon, but not all issues are ‘fully resolved’ at this stage”.
Match Of The Day 2 followed a similar stripped-back version to Saturday’s edition by airing only short clips from earlier football matches with no accompanying commentary.
The BBC One show was originally scheduled to last an hour and 15 minutes, but it was reduced to 15 minutes and the classic theme song did not play at the beginning.
A continuity announcer introduced the programme, saying: “Now on BBC One, sorry we’re not able to show our normal Match Of The Day 2 including commentary tonight, but here’s the best action from today’s Premier League matches.”
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