- By Rachel Russell and Charley Adams
- BBC News
Gary Lineker has been asked not to present Match of the Day until an agreement is reached over his use of social media, the BBC has said.
This follows a line of impartiality over comments he made criticizing the government’s new asylum policy.
The BBC said it viewed Lineker’s “recent social media activity as a breach of our guidelines”.
He added that he should “steer clear of taking sides on party politics or political controversies”.
The BBC asked Lineker to take a step back after “extensive discussions with Gary and his team over the past few days”.
He “has decided that he will step back from presenting Match of the Day until we have an agreed and clear stance on his use of social media,” the statement read.
He continued: “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 cannot have an opinion on issues that matter to him, but we have said that he should refrain from taking party on party political matters or political controversies.”
Fellow pundit Ian Wright said he would not appear in ‘solidarity’, tweeting: ‘Everyone knows what match of the day means to me but I told the BBC I won’t not tomorrow. Solidarity.”
Alan Shearer, who also presents on the show, said he had “informed the BBC that I will not be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night”.
On Tuesday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman outlined the government’s plans to bar people arriving in the UK illegally from seeking asylum, in a bid to tackle a surge in the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats.
Lineker reacted to it on Twitter, calling it “an immeasurably cruel policy directed against the most vulnerable people in language no different from that used by Germany in the 1930s.”
Ms Braverman denounced Lineker’s tweet, saying it “diminishes the untold tragedy” of the Holocaust.
Speaking on the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast, the Home Secretary said the Nazi comparison was ‘lazy and unnecessary’ and said her family ‘felt the impact of the Holocaust very keenly’ as their husband is Jewish.
Many opposition MPs and charities have also strongly opposed the government’s plans.
Richard Ayre, the BBC’s former editorial policy controller who was also a member of Ofcom’s content committee, said the company had “no choice” but to take action against Lineker after his tweets criticizing the government’s asylum policy.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s PM program on Friday afternoon, he said: “I think it was inevitable. It [Lineker] has the letters BBC written on his forehead and yet he is immersed in the most controversial story of the day.
“The thing is, it was an immediate issue that Tim Davie, the general manager, couldn’t sit on over the weekend, he had to fix it this week. He clearly tried to fix it and to reach an agreement with Gary Lineker, they’ve failed, so it’s the BBC’s decision. Whether this story continues depends on what Gary Lineker himself says in the next few hours.
‘It is inevitable now that by not having sacked him, but at least temporarily sacking him, the BBC will now be the subject of a torrent of criticism that they are acting at the behest of the government.’
A Labor source told the BBC the company would have to ‘rethink its decision’.
He said: “The BBC’s cowardly decision to take Gary Lineker off the air is an attack on free speech in the face of political pressure.
“Tory politicians who push for people to be fired for disagreeing with government policies should be mocked, not flattered. The BBC should rethink its decision.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called the BBC’s decision “indefensible”, as she wrote on Twitter: “As a strong supporter of public service broadcasting, I want to be able to defend the BBC. But the decision to take Gary Lineker off the air is indefensible. .
“He undermines free speech in the face of political pressure – and it always seems to be the right-wing pressure he caves to.”
Lineker has hosted Match of the Day since 1999 and is the BBC’s highest paid star, having earned around £1.35m in 2020-21.
He is employed by the BBC on a freelance basis.
The former footballer has previously hosted asylum seekers and has publicly called for better rights and protections for refugees. He has also criticized successive Conservative governments on issues such as Brexit.
His comments garnered widespread support on social media, with one tweet getting 235,000 likes.