Gary Lineker uses statement on his BBC return to make a powerful point

Gary Lineker uses statement on his BBC return to make a powerful point
Booted from BBC: What’s the Gary Lineker controversy all about?

Football fans across the country breathed a major sigh of relief at 10am on Monday as Gary Lineker confirmed he would be returning to Match of the Day.

The sporting icon announced that he and the BBChad “navigated a way” through the impartiality row that dominated British headlines over the weekend, meaning he'd be resuming his role as one of the broadcaster’s top presenters.

Lineker wrote in a Twitter thread that it had been a “surreal few days” but he’d been overwhelmed by the support shown by his BBC Sport colleagues.

However, whilst both Lineker and the corporation’s director-general Tim Davie made it clear that they’re ready to move on from the saga, the former England player also wanted to prove that he wasn’t being silenced.

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Ending his statement, Lineker reinforced the point that kicked the whole thing off, writing: “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.”

The 62-year-old was taken off air on Friday for a tweet likening the government’s language in its new asylum plan to that used by Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

His comment sparked fury among Conservative ministers, including home secretary Suella Braverman who said it "diminishe[d] the unspeakable tragedy" of the Holocaust and was a "lazy and unhelpful comparison to make.”

BBC bosses swiftly informed Lineker that the tweet breached the corporation's social media guidelines and that he'd be barred from presenting MOTD at the weekend if he didn't apologise. But he refused to back down.

The resulting decision to take him off air prompted a mass exodus of the corporation’s top sporting pundits, leaving it scrambling to fill some of its most popular slots.

It was clear that the BBC was going to have to get Lineker back or risk losing millions of viewers, as well as its credibility.

On Monday, Davie issued his own statement confirming the commentator’s return, saying: “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."

The director-general went on to announce "a review led by an independent expert – reporting to the BBC – on its existing social media guidance, with a particular focus on how it applies to freelancers outside news and current affairs".

He added: “The BBC and myself are aware that Gary is in favour of such a review.

“Shortly, the BBC will announce who will conduct that review. Whilst this work is undertaken, the BBC’s current social media guidance remains in place.

“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.”

In a follow-up to his Twitter thread, Lineker offered reciprocal praise to the big boss, writing: "I’d like to thank Tim Davie for his understanding during this difficult period.

"He has an almost impossible job keeping everybody happy, particularly in the area of impartiality. I am delighted that we’ll continue to fight the good fight, together."

Indeed, Davie described the BBC’s commitment to freedom of expression and to impartiality as a “difficult balancing act”.

He wrote: “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.”

Shortly after the statements were published, Davie spoke to BBC News, stressing that the fallout with Lineker had been a watershed moment for the corporation.

"I think it was a very big moment in terms of us saying we have to take stock here, we have to take action, we did take action which we thought was proportionate," he said.

However, he acknowledged: "For some people…we’ve taken too severe action, others think we’re being too lenient. There’s never been an easy solution, but asking Gary to step back off air, I think, was a significant thing."

He went to say that he was looking forward to "get[ting] back to business as usual.”

Meanwhile, here's what others had to say about Davie and Lineker's respective announcements:

Numerous commentators pointed out that whilst the Lineker issue may be resolved, the corporation is by no means out of the woods when it comes to public opinion.

Pressure continues to mount on BBC chairman Richard Sharp to resign given the questions surrounding impartiality.

Sharp, who was appointed chairman in February 2021, has been embroiled in a cronyism row over helping former prime minister Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility in recent months.

An investigation is being undertaken into his appointment but he now faces renewed scrutiny, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer telling broadcasters before the Lineker update broke: “I think RichardSharp’s position is increasingly untenable – most people watching the complete mess of the last few days would say how on earth is he still in position and Gary Lineker has been taken off air?

“This is a mess of the BBC’s own making, they need to sort it out and sort it out fast.”

Meanwhile, shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell insisted "much bigger questions remain about the impartiality and independence of the BBC from government pressures.

She wrote in a statement: “The Tory government have long wanted to undermine the BBC. They appointed a BBC chair now subject to investigation over his personal links to the Conservative Party. The ongoing uncertainties around the future of the BBC are keeping it over a barrel and making it susceptible to political campaigns orchestrated by ministers, MPs and the right-wing press.

“As well as a review of the BBC’s social media guidelines, this saga should prompt the Government to examine how it protects and promotes a truly independent and impartial BBC.”

To borrow, and misquote, one of football's most famous catchphrases: the BBC may think it's all over... but it's not now.

Not by a long shot.

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