Gary Lineker Row: BBC Backtracks After Wasting Weekend of Sports Coverage

London Evening Standard front page with headline "BBC Backs Down on Lineker And Says 'Sorry'"

As I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere, BBC sports coverage tends to be the soundtrack to my weekend. It starts with “Fighting Talk” on Saturday morning and ends with “Match of The Day 2” on Sunday night. This is only really interrupted by watching a couple of live Premier League football matches, something the BBC does not own the rights to. (Oh yeah, socialising too…)As the fallout from the Gary Lineker row continued, this weekend’s offering barely reached the level of a poor impersonation of what usually airs.

An avalanche of presenters, pundits and commentators said they would not be fulfilling their usual commitments in response to Lineker being pulled off the air. On television, “Football Focus”, “Final Score” and both “Match of the Day” episodes went. On radio, “Fighting Talk” and “606” were pulled too, as, crucially, was “5Live Sport” – hours of coverage that anchor the entire weekend. 

At the time Mark Chapman and “5Live Sport” should have begun on Saturday, the BBC had to run a podcast episode. The “Premier League Highlights” on television was a particular low point – mere minutes of edited highlights with no commentary or punditry. Inevitably, some online tried to claim they preferred this format. However, I find that hard to believe. The shows were a soulless, contextless husk of what fans have come to expect. I rather like the idea of a short highlights package (with commentary), but Sky Sports already offer tightly edited highlights of each game for those that do not want to sit for the hour or so that “Match of The Day” takes.

What Was The Point?

All-in-all, it was a mess. And for what? This morning, BBC director general Tim Davie issued an apology and announced a review of social media guidelines. In the relatively long statement, Davie said:

Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this. The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air.

Impartiality is important to the BBC. It is also important to the public. The BBC has a commitment to impartiality in its Charter and a commitment to freedom of expression. That is a difficult balancing act to get right where people are subject to different contracts and on-air positions, and with different audience and social media profiles.

He ended his statement by referencing Lineker directly:

Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary, and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend.

By contrast, Linker’s statement via the press office, he wrote more on Twitter, was just two sentences:

I am glad that we have found a way forward. I support this review and look forward to getting back on air.

A weekend’s ruined coverage at no benefit to the BBC.


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Gary Lineker Row: Remembering Fundamentals

It is worth reminding ourselves about the fundamentals of this whole sorry episode. Some of it has been lost in the furore. Impartiality in TV news, particularly at the BBC, really matters. Nobody there has free reign. Lineker is a contracted sports presenter and absolutely needs to be a good representative of the organisation.

However, the corporation’s own guidelines, as I understand them, suggest there is a little more flexibility for those on the sport and entertainment side. Indeed, I highlighted in last week’s piece some examples of BBC stars who have been allowed to get away with stating their opinion on issues. After a variety of stories highlighting the links between senior BBC figures and the Conservative Party, tough enforcement looked like little more than political interference. 

The other element to this is the comparisons made by Lineker and others to 1930s Germany. Such statements should be both dismissed and condemned. You can criticise the government’s stated policy, one I disagree with, without evoking the horror of the Holocaust and the events that led to it. Doing so is grotesque and belittles the memory of that event. It demeans Holocaust education and should be challenged at every turn. I’ll reiterate that I think it would be good if Lineker apologised for that part of his comments. Depressingly, he was far from alone in making the comparison.

Indeed, if the above had explicitly been what the BBC wanted to discipline Lineker for I may have had far less sympathy for him. But the row was about impartiality and the inconsistent application of the BBC’s guidelines. Ultimately, the BBC let itself get into an unnecessary battle with a combination of one of its biggest stars and football fans. There could only be one winner. 

4 thoughts on “Gary Lineker Row: BBC Backtracks After Wasting Weekend of Sports Coverage”

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