Former England soccer captain and BBC presenter Gary Lineker has been taken off the air temporarily, the public broadcaster said on Friday, after his criticism of the United Kingdom’s new migration policy sparked a row with his employer.
“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,” the broadcaster said in a statement.
What did Lineker say?
Lineker took to Twitter on Tuesday to criticize the British government’s new policy to refuse asylum to migrants who arrive in small boats and deport them to their home country or so-called safe third countries.
Lineker shared a video of Interior Minister Suella Braverman talking about the law and added: “Good heavens, this is beyond awful”.
In a response to another user, he went on to describe the measure as “an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people” and compared its wording to Nazi-era Germany.
The policy has also been condemned by opposition parties, charities and the United Nations’ refugee agency for its impact on genuine refugees.
Lineker had been known as politically engaged ever since his playing days, but he has probably become more outspoken on social media in recent years. He has courted criticism from some observers in the UK — who argue he should not show political bias as a BBC sports presenter — on several similar occasions in the past.
“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,” the BBC said in its statement.
Match of the Day presenters step back
Lineker, who has hosted Match of the Day for more than 20 years, will be off-air when the show is scheduled to be broadcast on Saturday.
The show, on air since 1964, is a roundup of extended highlights from the weekend Premier League fixtures, usually including studio analysis led by Lineker.
After several of the show’s regular studio presenters including Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, Jermaine Jenas and Micah Richards said they would not appear on the show without Lineker, the BBC said Saturday’s edition of Match of the Day would instead “focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry.”
Soon after, all six of the show’s scheduled match commentators went on to say that they would sit out of Saturday’s broadcast as well. They recommended that the BBC instead use World Feed commentary, rather than their own play-by-play callers.
Braverman: ‘Flippant’ Nazi comparison diminished tragedy of Holocaust
Braverman appeared on the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast, released on Friday, and was asked about the week’s events and Lineker’s comments.
Braverman, whose husband is Jewish, said Lineker crossed a line when saying her language on this issue was “not dissimilar to that used in 1930s Germany.”
“My husband’s family feels very keenly the impact of the Holocaust, actually. To throw out those kind of flippant analogies diminishes the unspeakable tragedy that many people went through,” Braverman said, arguing: “And I don’t think anything that is happening in the UK today can come close to what happened in the Holocaust. So, I find it a lazy and unhelpful comparison to make.”
This followed the issue being raised several times in the House of Commons this week, typically by Conservative MPs.
Scotland’s outgoing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, called the BBC’s decision “indefensible.”
And the opposition Labour Party issued a statement calling the decision “cowardly” and “an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure,” concluding: “BBC should rethink.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, meanwhile, said: “Individual cases are a matter for the BBC.”
Lineker among BBC’s most recognizable faces worldwide
Lineker is considered the BBC’s highest-paid presenter with an annual salary of up to £1.35 million ($1.62 million) for hosting Match of the Day and other football coverage
The former Barcelona and Tottenham player was a household name before he took over the reins of the country’s premier football show soon after his retirement. He’s now been a staple on British screens on Saturday nights for decades.
Lineker has hosted refugees at his home and has vocally criticized the government’s treatment of asylum seekers in the past.
He has also branched out into other interests in recent years, including as owner of the Goalhanger network of podcasts.
zc/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP)