March 5. 2024. 7:24

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Gary Lineker: BBC director-general says he will not resign over fallout from Match of the Day suspension

BBC director-general Tim Davie has apologised to audiences for the disruption to the corporation’s sports programming schedule, but said he will not resign in an interview with BBC News, following Gary Lineker being asked to step back from hosting Match of the Day.

Mr Davie says he will not resign over the fallout around Lineker. Speaking to the BBC’s Nomia Iqbal in the US, he was asked if he should resign over the crisis and said he would not. He also said it it had been a “difficult day” as he apologised for the disruption to the BBC’s sports programming. “Everyone wants to calmly resolve the situation. Gary Lineker’s the best in the business — that’s not for debate.”

The BBC has apologised for the changes to this weekend’s sporting schedule as the fallout from its suspension of Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker has deepened, with presenters of BBC Football Focus and Final Score pulling out of their Saturday shows.

The BBC said it is “working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon”.

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The broadcaster’s radio and TV timetables have been disrupted as a host of pundits pulled out of shows after Lineker was told to step back from hosting Match Of The Day in a row over impartiality.

In a statement, a BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC will only be able to bring limited sport programming this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect that.

“We are sorry for these changes which we recognise will be disappointing for BBC sport fans. We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”

Match of the Day on Saturday evening will be broadcast without presenters, pundits or its usual commentators this weekend after host Lineker was suspended from the BBC for breaching impartiality guidelines after criticising the government’s asylum policies.

Labour leader Keir Starmer on Satuday said the BBC “caving in” to Conservative MPs in the Lineker row is “the opposite of impartial”.

Mr Starmer told broadcasters at Welsh Labour’s conference in Llandudno: “The BBC is not acting impartially by caving in to Tory MPs who are complaining about Gary Lineker. They got this one badly wrong and now they’re very, very exposed.

“As is the Government, because at the heart of this is the Government’s failure on the asylum system. And rather than take responsibility for the mess they’ve made, the Government is casting around to blame anybody else – Gary Lineker, the BBC, civil servants, the ‘blob’.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called on BBC chairman Richard Sharp to resign over the row.

He said: “This saga has shown failure at the very top of the BBC and the dire need to urgently protect their independence. We need leadership at the BBC that upholds our proud British values and can withstand today’s consistently turbulent politics and Conservative bullying tactics.

“Sadly, under Richard Sharp’s leadership, this has not been the case: his appointment and position are now totally untenable and he must resign.”

The BBC took the decision to remove its highest-paid presenter from its flagship football show after he was criticised by Tory MPs and the rightwing media.

His suspension immediately led to displays of solidarity from Lineker’s co-hosts Ian Wright and Alan Shearer, who publicly announced that they would not be turning up to present Saturday’s show.

[ Malachy Clerkin: Gary Lineker’s Match of the Day saga is a depressing sign of the times for the UK ]

Alex Scott said she will not present Football Focus on Saturday amid reports the BBC has pulled the show.

In a tweet, she said: “I made a decision last night that even though I love my show and we have had an incredible week winning an SJA for football focus that it doesn’t feel right for me to go ahead with the show today.. Hopefully I will be back in the chair next week.”

Presenter Kelly Somers also said she would not be hosting Football Focus. She tweeted: “Just to confirm I won’t be on BBC television today.”

In a similar vein, Jason Mohammad, presenter of Final Score, said he has pulled out of Saturday’s show. “As you know, Final Score is a TV show very close to my heart. However – I have this morning informed the BBC that I will not be presenting the show this afternoon on BBC One,” he tweeted.

I made a decision last night that even though I love doing football focus and we have had an incredible week winning an SJA award that it just doesn’t feel right going ahead with the show today. Hopefully I will be back in the chair next week…

— Alex Scott MBE (@AlexScott) March 11, 2023

Elsewhere, BBC pulled its Radio 5 Live Sport coverage on Saturday, saying there had been a change of schedule. The station is playing old football podcasts.

Former England footballer Wright has said on his podcast that he is “gone” if the BBC “get rid” of Gary Lineker. In an episode of Wrighty’s House, aired on Friday before Lineker was told to step back from presenting Match Of The Day, Wright called the tweet row “the perfect distraction” for the government.

He added: I’ll tell you something. If they do – the BBC get rid of Gary Lineker – I’m out, I’m gone. I’m not staying there. On his own platform he should be able to say what he wants to say.”

The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the footballers’ union, announced players will not be asked to take part in BBC interviews for Match of the Day on Saturday night.

“The PFA have been speaking to members who wanted to take a collective position and to be able to show their support for those who have chosen not to be part of tonight’s programme,” the PFA said.

Former BBC director general Greg Dyke said the BBC has undermined its own credibility with its decision to stand Lineker down because it will be viewed as having bowed to government pressure.

Dyke told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “There is a long-established precedent in the BBC that is that if you’re an entertainment presenter or you’re a football presenter, then you are not bound by those same rules.

“The real problem of today is that the BBC has undermined its own credibility by doing this because it looks like – the perception out there – that the BBC has bowed to government pressure. And once the BBC does that, then you’re in real problems.”

However, Richard Ayre, former controller of editorial policy at the BBC, has said the broadcaster’s reputation is “bigger and more important” than any individual, including Lineker.

He told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: “He’s [Lineker] terrific and it will be very sad if he goes, but frankly the BBC and its reputation is bigger and more important than any individual, even Gary. – Guardian/PA