Gary Lineker has been forced off his Match of the Day duties by the BBC because he won’t apologise for his comments on social media, Sky News understands.
The BBC said in a statement that the presenter will “step back” from hosting the weekly football highlights programme.
But, it’s understood that Lineker has not agreed to this, and believes the wording is incorrect.
A source close to the presenter told Sky News that the corporation has taken him off air, as he is unwilling to apologise and admit he should not have made the comments.
Following the announcement, football pundit Ian Wright said he will not take part in tonight’s Match of the Day programme in “solidarity” with Lineker.
Alan Shearer also said he will not appear on the programme.
The BBC said Lineker will not present the show until an agreement is reached on his social media use, after he was embroiled in a row over impartiality by comparing the language used to launch a new government asylum policy with 1930s Germany.
The corporation said in a statement it has been in “extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days”.
“We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines,” the statement added.
“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 statement continued: “When it comes to leading our football and sports coverage, Gary is second to none. 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.”
Bectu, a union which represents thousands of BBC workers, said the corporation’s decision was “deeply concerning”.
Philippa Childs, Head of Bectu, said it gives the appearance that the BBC “has bowed to political pressure from ministers to take someone off air for disagreeing with the policies of the current government”.
She added: “Taken with the ongoing controversy over the appointment of the BBC Chairman, who has a much more important role in upholding the reputation of the BBC, and who has not stepped back while under investigation, it also risks given the impression of double standards on these issues.”
BBC director general Tim Davie told the broadcaster: “I think we always look to take proportionate action – and that’s what we’ve done… As editor in chief of the BBC I think one of our founding principles is impartiality and that’s what we are delivering on.”
He said he “respects” Shearer and Wright’s decision to pull out.
A tweet from Lineker had suggested he was not reprimanded by the BBC for his comments about the small boats policy despite criticism from some politicians.
“Well, it’s been an interesting couple of days,” he wrote on Thursday.
“Happy that this ridiculously out of proportion story seems to be abating and very much looking forward to presenting @BBCMOTD on Saturday.
“Thanks again for all your incredible support. It’s been overwhelming.”
In response to the BBC’s decision, a spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “Individual cases are a matter for the BBC.”
The BBC guidelines
Gary Lineker signed a five-year deal with the BBC in 2020, under which he agreed to adhere to their updated impartiality rules.
The rules for news and current affairs journalists are very strict, with their personal accounts treated as if they are part of the BBC’s output.
Because Lineker works in the sports department, he has more freedom to express his own opinion, but under the guidelines must still “avoid bringing the BBC into disrepute”.
They also state: “There are also others who are not journalists or involved in factual programming who nevertheless have an additional responsibility to the BBC because of their profile on the BBC. We expect these individuals to avoid taking sides on party political issues or political controversies and to take care when addressing public policy matters.”
Several commentators and football pundits have reacted to the news, with Gary Neville tweeting: “When you take on the Tories and the system! Awful people who we need gone.”
Meanwhile, Labour has condemned the BBC’s “cowardly decision” to stand Lineker down from MOTD hosting duties, saying: “The BBC’s cowardly decision to take Gary Lineker off air is an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure.
“Tory politicians lobbying to get people sacked for disagreeing with Government policies should be laughed at, not pandered to. The BBC should rethink their decision.”
Criticism from the government
Lineker told reporters outside his London home on Thursday that he stood by his criticism of the government and was not worried about being suspended from the BBC.
His initial controversial tweet saw him compare the language used to announce the government’s policy with 1930s Germany.
It sparked a row over whether he broke BBC impartiality rules.
The former England striker is a freelance broadcaster for BBC Sport.
As he is not a permanent staff member and is not responsible for news or political content, he is not required to adhere to the same regulations on impartiality.
But his comments drew criticism from Conservative Party politicians, with Home Secretary Suella Braverman telling the BBC that the comparison with pre-Second Word War Germany “diminishes the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust, and that the remarks were “offensive” and “lazy and unhelpful”.
The new legislation proposed by the government would mean refugees arriving on small boats in the UK are detained and deported within weeks – either to their own country if it is safe, or a third nation if it is not.