BBC scrambles as stars rally around suspended host Lineker: NPR

Soccer broadcaster Gary Lineker arrives before the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Chelsea in Leicester, England on Saturday.

Mike Egerton/PA via AP

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Mike Egerton/PA via AP

Soccer broadcaster Gary Lineker arrives before the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Chelsea in Leicester, England on Saturday.

Mike Egerton/PA via AP

LONDON – The BBC has been forced to ax much of its weekend sports programming as the network struggles to contain a growing crisis over its suspension of football host Gary Lineker for comments criticizing the government British. new asylum policy.

As a growing number of English Premier League players and BBC presenters rallied in support of Lineker and refused to appear on air on Saturday, Britain’s national broadcaster faced allegations of political bias and suppression of freedom of expression, and even praise from some conservative politicians.

The broadcaster said it will only air “limited sports programming” this weekend after hosts of several of its popular sports shows refused to appear, in solidarity with Lineker. The former England captain has been suspended from “Match of the Day,” a popular soccer show, on a Twitter post that compared language of legislators on migrants to that used in Nazi Germany.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made his first comments on the storm, saying: “Gary Lineker was a great footballer and he is a talented presenter. I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in time, but it is just a matter for them, not the government”.

Instead of general coverage on Saturday of the most popular league in the world, the BBC had no preview shows on radio or TV and no early evening summaries of the final results of the Premier League matches. The lunchtime TV program “Football Focus” has been replaced with a repeat episode of the old “Bargain Hunt”, while the primetime “Final Score” has been swapped for “The Repair Shop”.

Football fans tuning in for ‘Match of the Day’ – the late-night program that has been a British institution for 60 years – will get a 20-minute show instead of one that usually lasts around an hour and a half. There will be no comments on the matches and no studio comments from some of the top stars of the British game who have chosen to support Lineker and not work.

There will be no player interviews after the match. The Professional Footballers’ Association said some players wanted to boycott the show, and therefore “players involved in today’s games will not be asked to take part in interviews with ‘Match of The Day'”.

The union said it was a “common sense solution” to avoid players facing sanctions for breaching their broadcasting commitments.

The BBC said it was “sorry about these changes which we recognize will be disappointing for fans of BBC sport. We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”

Lineker, 62, was a household name in Britain even before he became chief presenter of ‘Match of the Day’ in 1999.

One of English football’s most lauded players, he was the top scorer at the 1986 World Cup and finished his international career with 48 goals in 80 games for England.

After retiring from a career that included stints with Barcelona, ​​Tottenham, Everton and Leicester, Lineker became one of the UK’s most influential media figures and the BBC’s highest-paid star, earning 1, 35 million pounds ($1.6 million) last year.

An avid social media user with 8.7 million Twitter followers, Lineker has long irritated centre-right politicians and activists with his liberal views, including criticism of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The latest controversy began with a tweet on Tuesday from Lineker’s account describing the government’s plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat as “an immeasurably cruel policy aimed at the most vulnerable people in language that it is not dissimilar to the one used by Germany in the 30s.”

The Conservative government called Lineker’s Nazi comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some MPs said he should be sacked.

In his statement on Saturday, Sunak doubled down on his party’s policy.

“As Prime Minister”, he said: “I have to do what I believe is right, respecting that not everyone will always agree. That is why I have been unequivocal in my approach to stop the boats” .

Sunak said it was the only way to “break this cycle of poverty once and for all.”

“There are no easy answers to solve this problem,” he added, “but I believe that leadership is about making hard decisions to solve problems. I know that not everyone always agrees, but I believe that this is right and right.”

On Friday, the BBC said Lineker would “withdraw” from “Match of the Day” until he has “an agreed and clear position on his use of social media”. Lineker has yet to comment publicly, and on Saturday he went to his hometown of Leicester to watch Leicester City play Chelsea in the Premier League. He was greeted with cheers from passers-by as he arrived for a match that Chelsea won 3-1.

The 100-year-old BBC, which is funded by a license fee paid by all households with a television, has a duty to be impartial in its news coverage, and BBC staff are not prevented from expressing political views .

Lineker, as a freelancer who does not work in news or current affairs, is not bound by the same rules, and has sometimes pushed the boundaries of what the BBC considers acceptable. Last year, the BBC found that Lineker had breached impartiality rules with a tweet about alleged Russian donations from the Conservatives.

The BBC’s neutrality has come under recent scrutiny over revelations that its chairman, Richard Sharp – a Conservative Party donor – helped arrange a loan for Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2021, weeks before Sharp was appointed to the BBC post on the recommendation of the government.

Former BBC director-general Greg Dyke said the network was “undermining its own credibility” by appearing to bow to government pressure.

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labor party, said the BBC was “caving in” to political pressure from Tory MPs.

“They got this wrong and now they are very, very exposed,” he said.

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