Former soccer star Gary Lineker will return to the BBC’s flagship soccer program Match of the Day after reaching a deal in a dispute that has raised questions about government influence and freedom of expression at the world’s biggest broadcaster.
Lineker was suspended as the show’s host last week after tweeting critically about the U.K. government’s new asylum plans, which aim to make it illegal for migrants entering the country through unofficial ports to claim refugee status.
Here’s what you should know about the row and how it started.
What did Lineker say?
Lineker criticized the government’s so-called Stop The Boats Bill on Twitter last week. “Good heavens, this is beyond awful,” he wrote in response to a video showing Home Secretary Suella Braverman outlining the new migration rules.
In later tweets, Lineker said: “There is no huge influx [of migrants]. 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?”
How did the Conservative Party and the BBC respond?
Lawmakers in Britain’s ruling Conservative Party were quick to express their disappointment about Lineker’s remarks. Braverman called his comment “offensive.”
The BBC later said that Lineker had violated its impartiality guidelines, which govern how employees conduct themselves publicly and on social media. Lineker is a freelancer with the broadcaster.
As Lineker’s return was announced on Monday, the BBC said it would hold an independent review of its social media guidelines, focussing on how it applies to freelancers. Lineker said he supports the review.
Criticism of the BBC
Critics of Lineker’s removal have pointed out that the impartiality policy is often applied unevenly, as other BBC-affiliated presenters have made racist remarks in the past without impact to their programs.
Meanwhile, the impartiality of the broadcaster itself is also being criticized, and Director-General Tim Davie is under fire for his decision to suspend Lineker, largely due to his perceived closeness to the Tory government.
At the same time, BBC chair Richard Sharp is facing calls to resign over Lineker’s ousting. He is separately facing investigations into his involvement in helping former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 ($965,000) loan. Sharp has also been a prominent donor to the Conservative Party.
In a statement Monday, Davie apologized for the confusion caused by the network’s social media policy. “I apologise for this,” he said. “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.”