Gary Lineker will resume his duties on the BBC’s flagship soccer show after an impartiality storm over his criticism of the government’s asylum policy that plunged Britain’s public broadcaster into scheduling chaos over the weekend.
In a statement on Monday, the BBC’s Director General Tim Davie said he recognized it had been a “difficult period for staff” but that he was looking forward to Lineker’s reinstatement.
He also announced a review of the BBC’s social media guidance would be led by an independent expert, acknowledging the existing guidance had caused “potential confusion.”
“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,” the statement read.
Lineker, a former professional soccer player who has presented “Match of the Day” for almost 25 years, was suspended by the BBC on Friday, following controversy surrounding a tweet he wrote criticizing the UK government’s new asylum-seeker policy.
Since the suspension was announced, the BBC has faced a boycott from pundits, presenters and even players of its flagship soccer show, while other soccer programs – “Football Focus” and “Final Score” – and some radio programming were forced off-air over the weekend as a result of the furore.
Lineker, 62, welcomed the news of his reinstatement on Twitter, saying it had been “a surreal few days.”
“I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this,” he tweeted Monday.
“I want to thank you all for the incredible support, particularly my colleagues at BBC Sport, for the remarkable show of solidarity. Football is a team game but their backing was overwhelming.”
While thanking Davie for his “understanding during this difficult time” Lineker tweeted that “however difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away.”
He added: “It’s heartwarming to have seen the empathy towards their plight from so many of you.”
How it began
Before his move into broadcasting, Lineker represented clubs such as Leicester City, Tottenham and Barcelona during his illustrious soccer career.
He also captained the England national team, scoring 48 goals in 80 appearances for his country. He was named the top scorer at the Mexico World Cup in 1986.
The former striker has been the lead presenter on “Match of the Day” since 1999. In 2022, he was named the BBC’s highest-paid presenter for the fifth-year running.
On March 7, Lineker tweeted “Good heavens, this is beyond awful” to a video posted on Twitter by the British Home Office announcing the new proposed policy – an attempt to stop migrant boats crossing the English Channel from France, which has been criticized by the United Nations and other global bodies.
He added: “There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s, and I’m out of order?”
On Friday, the BBC announced Lineker would “step back from presenting Match of the Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media,” adding it considered his recent social media activity to breach its guidelines.
The decision was criticized by BBC staff, soccer players, Premier League managers and politicians – leading to the boycott which caused scheduling chaos across the network.
As Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC is bound by “due impartiality” – a much debated term which the organization defines as holding “power to account with consistency” while not “allowing ourselves to be used to campaign to change public policy.”
However, the BBC’s former director general Greg Dyke said the broadcaster had “undermined its own credibility” by suspending Lineker because it seemed like it had “bowed to government pressure.”
In an interview with the BBC on Monday, Davie insisted that he was not influenced by political pressure while acknowledging “some political involvement” with the Conservative Party “30 years ago.”
“It’s a convenient narrative, it’s not true,” he said.
Davie added in Monday’s statement: “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.
“The BBC’s social media guidance is designed to help manage these sometimes difficult challenges and I am aware there is a need to ensure that the guidance is up to this task. It should be clear, proportionate, and appropriate.”