The BBC’s weekend football coverage has been thrown into chaos following its announcement that gary lineker would “back off” from presenting, after becoming embroiled in an impartiality row when he criticized British government policy on Twitter.
The station is now facing a boycott from pundits, presenters and even players of its flagship football show “Match of the Day”, while other football shows (Football Focus and Final Score) and some radio shows have been forced off the air as a result of the rage.
Lineker criticized the government’s controversial new asylum-seeker policy on Tuesday and subsequently resigned from his presenting duties this week, as the BBC said his tweets breached its guidelines, specifically its commitment to “due impartiality”.
The BBC’s decision has generated controversy, leaving the organization under fire from opposition politicians, the BECTU union which represents BBC staff and its former director-general Greg Dyke.
“The BBC will only be able to bring limited sports programming this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect that,” a BBC spokesperson said in a statement on Saturday.
“We regret these changes which we recognize will be disappointing to BBC sports fans.
“We are working hard to resolve the situation and we hope to do so soon.”
On Tuesday, Lineker tweeted “OMG this is beyond horrible” in a video posted to Twitter by Britain’s Home Office announcing the proposed new policy: a attempt to stop immigrant ships crossing the English Channel from France, which has been criticized by the United Nations and other world bodies.
And he added: “There is not a large influx. We accept far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy aimed at the most vulnerable people in language not unlike that used by Germany in the 1930s, and am I out of line?
As Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC is subject to “due impartiality”, a much-debated term that the organization define such as having “the power to be consistently accountable” while not “allowing ourselves to be used to campaign for public policy change”.
On Friday, the BBC announced that Lineker would “stop hosting Match of the Day until we have a clear and agreed position on his use of social media”, adding that it considered his recent activity on social media to be in breach of its guidelines.
In response, first pundits, then commentators and then even Premier League teams announced their intention to boycott the show in support of Lineker.
BBC commentators Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Cowen and Steven Wyeth said in a joint statement issued on Friday night that “under the circumstances, we do not believe it is appropriate to participate in the programme”.
Jermain Defoe, the former England striker, announced on Saturday that he would not appear as a commentator on Sunday’s programme.
“It is always a great privilege to work with BBC MOTD. But tomorrow I have made the decision to retire from my expert duties. @GaryLineker”, Defoe tweeted.
Defoe’s announcement appears to be the first sign that the British network’s Sunday television programming will also be affected.
For its part, the Association of Professional Soccer Players Announced on Saturday that “players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with Match of the Day.”
“The PFA has been speaking with members who wanted to take a collective stand and be able to show their support for those who chose not to be a part of tonight’s show,” the statement added.
“During those conversations, we made it clear that, as your union, we would support all members who could face consequences for choosing not to complete their broadcast commitments. This is a common sense decision that ensures that the players are not now in that position.
Following his team’s 1-0 defeat against Bournemouth on Saturday, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was asked about the BBC issue.
“I don’t see any reason why they would ask someone to back off for saying that. I’m not sure if it’s a language problem or not,” the German told reporters.
“If I understand it correctly, then this is an opinion on human rights and that should be possible to say.
“What I don’t understand is why everyone goes on Twitter and says something. I don’t get the social media part, but probably (because) I’m too old for that.”
Former BBC director-general Greg Dyke said the broadcaster had “undermined its own credibility” by suspending Lineker because it appeared he had “bowed to government pressure”.
Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor Party, said the BBC had “got a lot wrong on this and now they are very, very exposed.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “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. It’s undermining free speech in the face of political pressure, and it always seems to be pressure from the right that gives way.”
Opposition Labor Party deputy leader Angela Rayner also criticized the BBC’s decision in a tweet on Saturday.
“The BBC’s cowardly decision to take Gary Lineker off the air is an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure from conservative politicians. They should rethink,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, Nadine Dorries, an MP for the ruling Conservative party and former Culture Secretary, welcomed the BBC’s decision. tweeting: “The news that Gary Lineker has been removed from the investigation is welcome and shows that the BBC is serious about impartiality.
“Gary is entitled to his views – free speech is paramount. Many non-public service stations can accommodate him and his views and he would be better paid.”