Gary Lineker was embroiled in one of the most high-profile — and surprising — controversies of 2023 last week when his suspension from the BBC caused huge disruption and embarrassment for the UK’s national broadcaster.
The former England international was stood down from hosting Match Of The Day, the Premier League highlights show in the UK, on March 11 following a BBC investigation into a controversial Tweet sent by Lineker regarding the UK Government’s new immigration bill.
What began as criticism of the Home Office’s announcement of tougher new immigration laws exploded into a debate around the BBC’s impartiality guidelines and the rights of TV personalities such as Lineker to express personal views.
Good heavens, this is beyond awful. https://t.co/f0fTgWXBwp
— Gary Lineker 💙💛 (@GaryLineker) March 7, 2023
After several colleagues refused to appear on TV and radio shows last weekend in solidarity with Lineker, the BBC was forced into a hasty reprogramming of its sports schedule, which included showing a curtailed, 20-minute, commentary-free highlights package in place of Match Of The Day.
In the end, the broadcaster came to a resolution with the former Barcelona and Tottenham striker.
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. 1/4
— Gary Lineker 💙💛 (@GaryLineker) March 13, 2023
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Is Gary Lineker hosting Match of the Day tonight?
Lineker has confirmed he will return to his role as Match Of The Day host, a position he has covered since 1999, but he will not be in the hot seat this weekend.
Despite huge attention over his comeback, Lineker will skip MOTD hosting duties on March 18 due to a scheduling crossover with the BBC’s live FA Cup coverage.
Manchester City’s quarterfinal clash with Burnley will be Lineker’s first assignment since last week’s furore. As the match kicks off less than five hours before MOTD is due to start, Mark Chapman is instead expected to host the Premier League highlights show.
It means Lineker is not likely to host the programme again until April 1, after the international break.
Why was Gary Lineker taken off MOTD duties?
The BBC stopped short of formally suspending Lineker from his position at Match Of The Day, with their initial stance confirming an intention to hold a “frank conversation” with the former striker to “remind him of his responsibilities” in relation to BBC staff guidance on impartiality.
BBC presenters and journalists are bound by strict rules on maintaining neutral stances on governmental policy, in their role as representatives of the state broadcaster.
However, Lineker’s position as a freelancer created a ‘grey area’ over the rules, with 62-year-old claiming he was unaware of any such restrictions regarding his ability to post online.
This 3 minute clip from 2021 is still being widely shared. It’s helpful if you want to understand how Gary Lineker feels about the issue of refugees, about his relationship with the BBC – and about the idea of the BBC telling him what he can and can’t tweet. pic.twitter.com/f5EWdx68tQ
— Ros Atkins (@BBCRosAtkins) March 12, 2023
The BBC have now confirmed their plans to conduct an independent review of social media guidelines in the wake of the Lineker row.
When will Alan Shearer and Ian Wright be back on the BBC?
The BBC’s football coverage last weekend descended into chaos as colleagues stood in solidarity with Lineker by withdrawing from television and radio shows.
Among the first to indicate their support for Lineker by refusing to appear on MOTD as pundits were former England strikers and regular Match Of The Day co-stars Alan Shearer and Ian Wright.
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
The former Premier League players both tweeted their decision to back Lineker, with Wright since claiming the BBC needs to make major changes on the back of the incident.
Both Shearer and Wright are expected to rejoin Lineker from April 1 on MOTD. Wright may appear on the show this weekend, but Shearer will join Lineker as a pundit for Man City vs Burnley.
The wider show of support for Lineker meant other key names at the BBC, including Jermaine Jenas, Alex Scott and Dion Dublin all confirmed they would not appear on the show, with Match Of The Day, Match Of The Day 2, BBC Radio 5Live and Women’s Super League coverage all reduced to basic elements as commentators and presenters joined the walkout.
The future of MOTD: Is Match Of The Day cancelled?
The BBC have looked to implement damage control over the situation with Lineker name-checking BBC director general Tim Davie for his role in reaching a resolution.
However, the swirling controversy is continuing, with Premier League chief executive Richard Masters confirming rival broadcasters are considering bids to take over the official UK highlights show.
The BBC reportedly pays £211 million ($236m) per year to show Premier League highlights on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. With the contract up for renewal, it is expected that rival broadcasters could look to gazump the BBC with a bigger offer.
In 2001, ITV outbid the BBC to become the UK broadcaster of the official Premier League highlights show. That programme, ‘The Premiership’, ran until the end of the 2003/04 season, at which point the BBC regained the rights.