Sports editor Oscar Frost reports on the comments made by pundit Gary Lineker that led to his suspension from presenting Match of the Day
Football fans across the UK were shocked to see that Gary Lineker was taken off air last weekend (11th March) for his comments about the government’s new asylum policies.
Lineker has since removed the tweet in question, however his reply to Suella Braverman’s “enough is enough” video is still available. “Good heavens, this is beyond awful,” stated the pundit. That tweet has reached 16m viewers, illustrating the reach of Lineker’s social media presence as a result of the controversy.
The BBC then released a statement that noted Lineker’s stepping back from his presenting role on popular show Match of the Day. Essentially, Lineker was accused of breaking the BBC guidelines for social media activity.
The reaction from fellow pundits was one of solidarity, with his co-hosts of the show making public the fact that they would not present the show without Lineker.
Ian Wright spoke out in support of Lineker by tweeting that “Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity.” This tweet alone also has reached 39.1 million users, far surpassing Wright’s 2.2 million follower count.
The increased exposure for these pundits in support of the issue sent a powerful message to the BBC. Alan Shearer also refused to present, with Micah Richards showing his support in spite of not being set to appear on Match of the Day that evening. Host-less and pundit-less, the BBC had an impossible task on their hands to fill the boots of Lineker, Shearer and Wright.
Alternative hosts Mark Chapman and Alex Scott also stood in solidarity with Lineker, publicly refusing to present the show in his absence. Former Football Focus presenter Dan Walker also said in a tweet “not sure I’d fancy [MOTD] this weekend. What a mess!”
The solidarity from other members of the media also stretched to commentators. Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Cowan and Steven Wyeth also relinquished their roles on the show, further reducing the content available to the BBC.
The uncertainty surrounding who would present the show led to comedians like Munya Chawawa posting satire videos. Chawawa impersonated Braverman, poking jokes at her handling of the asylum policies.
When the regular time slot for the show finally came around, it did not have its usual format. With a complete absence of pundits, Match of the Day was reduced to just showing the highlights from the games played that day.
As a fan, I believe that this highlighted the fact that the pundits are integral to the essence of Match of the Day as an entertaining way to wrap up the football action from the day. This was not an uncommon opinion, as Lineker has since been reinstated in his post.
The Director-General of the BBC, Tim Davie, issued a statement last Monday stating that “The BBC has a commitment to impartiality.” He also attributed the Lineker debacle to “grey areas” in their social media guidance introduced in 2020.
In this statement, Davie also announced that there would be an independent review into the social media guidance. He went on to say that this review would occur “shortly,” but that the current social media guidance would remain in place until the review is completed.
In response to the statement by Davie, Lineker commented “I support this review and look forward to getting back on air.” We look forward to having him back. Viewers are already predicting what the presenter’s opening quip will be come Saturday night. He has developed a penchant for witty satirical one-liners and this ordeal presents a golden opportunity to poke some fun at himself, or his employers. There will certainly be an elephant in the room that needs addressing, albeit comically, on the first show back.
From an entertainment perspective, this ordeal has highlighted the importance of the pundits to the sports media industry. The fact that figures like Lineker and Wright are becoming more associated with their punditry than their illustrious careers on the pitch is telling. Lineker is a staple of British television, and the backlash against his ban spoke volumes about how the review into the BBC social media guidelines is overdue. In such a fast changing sphere, this guidance must be pliable by nature in order to prevent more cases like this one.
Despite the turmoil experienced by Lineker, his recent tweets suggest that he still remains loyal to the BBC. “I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this,” Lineker wrote, followed by “I cannot wait to get back in the MOTD chair on Saturday.” It seems that Lineker is ready to put this behind him and the BBC, which is music to the ears of football fans across the country.
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