Match of the Day to air without presenters or pundits as Gary Lineker told to step back

Gary LinekerPA Media

Match of the Day will air later without a studio presenter, pundits, or its regular commentators, after the BBC told Gary Lineker to step back in a row over impartiality.

Pundits Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, Micah Richards and Jermaine Jenas have all said they will not appear on the show.

Alex Scott hinted the same while six members of the MOTD commentating team said they would also not take part.

It follows presenter Lineker’s criticism of government asylum policy.

On Twitter, the former England footballer had compared the language used by the government to unveil its new plans as “not dissimilar to” 1930s Germany.

The BBC said it it had asked Lineker to step back from presenting after “extensive discussions” with him.

The corporation said it considered his “recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines”, adding it had been “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 BBC said the English Premier League football highlights show MOTD on Saturday night would instead “focus on match action”.

In a later statement, a spokesperson said: “Some of our pundits have said that they don’t wish to appear on the programme while we seek to resolve the situation with Gary.

“We understand their position and we have decided that the programme will focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry.”

MOTD commentators Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Cowen and Steven Wyeth shared a joint statement online, saying they “do not feel it would be appropriate to take part in the programme” on Saturday.

They said: “We are comforted that football fans who want to watch their teams should still be able to do,” explaining that alternative sources for commentary on the games were available to be used by the show.

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BBC Sport understands a number of players from various clubs contacted the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) to say they may want to show solidarity with Lineker and the MOTD pundits by boycotting the post-match interviews on the show.

The PFA – which has been in talks with players and clubs on the matter – are believed to be supportive of any players who choose to do so.

Ian Wright was the first pundit to say publicly that he would not appear on Saturday’s programme, tweeting: “Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity.”

Image shows Alan Shearer and Ian Wright

Getty Images

Former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer, who also appears on the show, then said he had “informed the BBC that I won’t be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night”.

Shortly after, ex-Arsenal and Lionesses player Alex Scott hinted that she too would not appear, tweeting a GIF of US politician Bernie Sanders saying “Nah! Not me” with the caption: “FYI…”.

She was followed by former Manchester City defender Richards, who wrote on Twitter: “I was not due to be working on MOTD tomorrow, but if I was, I would find myself taking the same decision that [Ian Wright] & [Alan Shearer] have.”

Ex-Tottenham midfielder Jenas then tweeted: “Been on air with the one show. I wasn’t down to be doing match of the day tomorrow, but if I was I would of said no and stood with my fellow pundits and [Gary Lineker].”

Lineker has not yet publicly commented on the latest developments, but while presenting 5News earlier, former BBC presenter Dan Walker read out a text live on air from the 62-year-old.

Walker said he had messaged Lineker asking: “What is happening. Are you stepping back?”

He said he had received a reply saying: “No, they’ve [the BBC] told me I have to step back.”

BBC News has been told that the Match of the Day production team were not told in advance about its decision.

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On Tuesday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman outlined the government’s plans to ban people arriving in the UK illegally from ever claiming asylum, in a bid to address a rise in the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats.

Lineker reacted to it on Twitter calling it an “immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.

Lineker has hosted Match of the Day since 1999 and is the BBC’s highest paid star, having earned about £1.35m in 2020-21. He is employed by the BBC on a freelance basis.

In the statement announcing he would not be presenting MOTD, the BBC said: “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.”

Gary Lineker profile

Richard Ayre, former controller of editorial policy at the BBC, said the corporation had “no choice” but to take action against Lineker.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme the corporation’s Director General Tim Davie had “clearly tried” to reach an agreement with Lineker but failed, adding: “It’s inevitable now that having in effect not sacked him but removed him temporarily at least, the BBC will now come under a torrent of criticism saying it’s acting under the government’s behest.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy wrote on social media it was “chilling” to see “a great public broadcaster cowering to right wing fanatics”.

“Our democracy is made of tougher stuff than this,” he wrote, adding the BBC should “get a grip” and put Gary Lineker back on Match of the Day “where he belongs”.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the BBC was “undermining free speech in the face of political pressure”, while writing on Twitter, Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas said the broadcaster was “capitulating” to a “divisive” government.

In a statement, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “Individual cases are a matter for the BBC.”

Additional reporting by Malu Cursino

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