Inside Gary Lineker controversy: From presenter’s tweets to BBC Match of the Day crisis

11 Mar 2023, 11:09

Alex Scott, BBC, Gary Lineker, Ian Wright

Gary Lineker was told to step back from hosting Match of the Day yesterday (Friday, March 10) until an agreement has been reached about how he uses Twitter.

The BBC said it considered the England football legend’s “recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines”.

However, tonight’s Match of the Day will now air without a host, pundits or commentary from its regular broadcasters as contributors pulled their availability.

Here’s how the mess involving Gary Lineker unfolded over the past few days.

Match of the Day will not feature Gary Lineker tonight (Credit: BBC iPlayer)

What did Gary Lineker say on Twitter?

Gary reacted to a Twitter video featuring Home Secretary Suella Braverman concerning the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill on Tuesday (March 7).

He tweeted at the time: “Good heavens, this is beyond awful.”

The 62-year-old went on to reply to one follower who took issue with Gary’s remarks, but later deleted their tweet. Gary reasoned in his response: “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 1930s, and I’m out of order?”

Ms Braverman later reacted by suggesting the comparison was “unhelpful”.

Good heavens, this is beyond awful.

— Gary Lineker 💙💛 (@GaryLineker) March 7, 2023

Gary Lineker tweet controversy timeline
Tuesday March 7 

Gary Lineker tweeted about the “beyond awful” Illegal Migration Bill. He noted language used by the Government has echoes of that “used by Germany in the 1930s”.

Wednesday March 8

Following a backlash from Government Ministers, Gary said he hoped to be able to “speak up” for those who cannot.

He tweeted at the time: “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.”

Gary Lineker dismisses speculation from reporters outside his house on Thursday morning (Credit: YouTube)

Thursday March 9

As the outrage rumbled on, Gary indicated he would be fronting the BBC flagship football show as expected this weekend.

He told followers: “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.”

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A post shared by Gary Lineker (@garylineker)

Friday March 10

On Friday, the BBC issued a statement explaining Gary would not be hosting Saturday’s MOTD.

It read: “The BBC 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 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.

“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.”

Following the BBC’s statement, MOTD regulars made it clear they have no wish to be involved in Saturday’s broadcast.

Pundit 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.”

Meanwhile Alan Shearer wrote: “I have informed the BBC that I won’t be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night.”

Jermaine Jenas and Micah Richards both noted they were not scheduled to appear on the show, and would not be doing so. Alex Scott also tweeted an indication she would not fill in.


— Alex Scott MBE (@AlexScott) March 10, 2023

The BBC then ripped up the show’s format, saying in a statement that the show would continue without “studio presentation”.

Later, broadcaster Steve Wilson revealed the commentary team would also not participate.

He 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.”

Rumours also swirled that players had been in contact with the PFA for advice on demonstrating support for Gary. There are expectations some may not take part in post-match interviews for the BBC.

Reporters also speculated football fans may chant Gary’s name during matches the next day.

Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity.

— Ian Wright (@IanWright0) March 10, 2023

Saturday March 11

Ex-director general Greg Dyke said the decision to suspend Gary for criticising the government’s asylum policies is “mistaken”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is a long-established precedent in the BBC that is that if you’re an entertainment presenter or you’re a football presenter, then you are not bound by those same [impartiality] rules.

“The real problem of today is that the BBC has undermined its own credibility by doing this because it looks like – the perception out there – that the BBC has bowed to government pressure.

“And once the BBC does that, then you’re in real problems. The perception out there is going to be that Gary Lineker, a much-loved television presenter, was taken off air after government pressure on a particular issue.”

Mr Dyke was also asked whether he thought Gary’s tweet was acceptable.

He replied: “We live in a world of freedom of speech and therefore, yes. He didn’t broadcast it on the BBC, it was a tweet he did privately.”

Mr Dyke also added: “If you start applying the rules of news and current affairs to everybody who works for the BBC, where does it end?”

And at 10.25am, Alex Scott told followers she wouldn’t be taking part in another BBC programme.

She wrote: “I made a decision last night that even though I love doing Football Focus and we have had an incredible week winning an SJA award that it just doesn’t feel right going ahead with the show today.

“Hopefully I will be back in the chair next week…”

There are as-yet-unconfirmed reports that Football Focus will not air.

Read more: Gary Lineker ‘deeply worried’ as he makes shock confession about his health

Match of the Day airs on BBC One tonight, Saturday March 11, at 10.20pm. But will many bother to watch?

Leave us a comment on our Facebook page @EntertainmentDailyFix and let us know what you think of this story.

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