BBC faces growing crisis over Gary Lineker suspension as stars pull out

The BBC has been embroiled in a deepening crisis after it forced Gary Lineker to “step down” from hosting its high-profile sports show after accusing him of breaching its political neutrality policy.

Lineker banned from Premier League highlights Match of the day Other BBC staff and contributors walked out, throwing weekend sports into chaos.

In connection with the case, Tim Davie, the director general of the BBC, is trying to strengthen the impartiality of the company, which he says was his most important aspiration when he took over the leadership in September 2020. However, the dispute puts pressure on the company’s management due to its perceived pro-government bias.

“This is the biggest piece of crap since the collapse of Newsnight,” said a senior BBC manager, referring to the 2012 scandal over the mishandling of sexual harassment allegations.

On Tuesday, Lineker hit out at the government’s latest migration policy, saying it was “cruel beyond measure”, adding that the language used about migrants was “no different to what Germany used in the 1930s”. The BBC suspended him on Friday, saying he was “stepping back” from the show.

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Some of the BBC’s sports broadcasts were interrupted on Saturday as anger grew over his suspension. Afternoon shows Football Focus and Final score was canceled as radio station 5 Live switched from scheduled sports programming to podcasts.

Alex Scott, former England international and host Football Focustweeted that it was “simply not appropriate to continue today’s presentation”.

While Match of the day The BBC was forced to radically change the format after Lineker’s presenters pulled out. The show usually includes highlights of the day’s Premier League football matches and match discussion. The BBC said this week it would instead “focus on the match, with no studio presentation or shenanigans”.

A household name in Britain since the 1980s, Lineker was England’s star player at two World Cups and introduced Match of the day Since 1999.

Goalhanger Podcasts, which produces ‘The Rest is Politics’, is one-third owned by former Labor spin doctor Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart, a Liberal ex-Tory MP. A BBC editor called it “the house magazine for centrist dads”.

The BBC has long been accused by some right-wing politicians of being biased against liberal views. A senior BBC executive said Lineker’s liberal personal politics were the “problem”. “That would be less of a problem if he was Maoist.”

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BBC journalists have reported that in recent years there has been growing unease within the company over management’s interpretation of impartiality. “Editors [are increasingly] to prevent the inevitable complaints from Downing Street,” said one insider.

Richard Sharp, the chairman of the BBC, was criticized for not disclosing his alleged involvement to Boris Johnson, the prime minister, who shortly afterwards recommended the role for discussions about a loan of up to £800,000. Sharp has denied wrongdoing and refuses to step down, saying he did not help or arrange Johnson’s financing.

Greg Dyke, the former director-general, said on Saturday that “the BBC has undermined its own credibility [by suspending Lineker] because it seems – the perception there – that the BBC bowed to government pressure”.

The controversy has put pressure on the BBC to continue employing Lord Alan Sugar, who supported the Conservatives in 2017 and 2019. Presented by Sugar the apprentice reality show.

But a senior producer said they felt pressure in the wake of the Sharp revelations to find stories that wouldn’t be helpful to conservatives. “Let’s do a little ‘show them we’re not biased.’

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The row has left BBC management scrambling to resolve the rift with some of its most senior staff.

A former senior BBC executive said: “They left themselves no way out.” Several insiders speculated that Lineker or Davie could be pushed out.

Another former executive said, “If you’re Tim [Davie] and you have made impartiality your course, you must die on this hill. It’s actually Tim’s hill. If someone is going to die, it should be him. But we can’t have that.”

“The obvious thing is to have an independent review of the rules, recall Gary and ask him not to tweet about it until then.”

In a statement, the BBC said: “The BBC can only bring limited sports programs this weekend and we are updating our schedule accordingly. We regret these changes, which we know will be disappointing for BBC sports fans. We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”