Gary Lineker saga: BBC apologises for show disruption as stars slam broadcaster, join mass boycott,

Gary Lineker saga: BBC apologises for show disruption as stars slam broadcaster, join mass boycott,
Photo credit: Getty Images

The BBC has apologised to viewers for "limited sport programming" as employees walked out after Gary Lineker was taken off air for comments criticising the British government's new asylum policy. 

Many of the BBC's flagship football shows were taken off air by the broadcaster on Friday (local time) as a row over freedom of speech turns into a crisis for the national broadcaster.

The shows taken off air include "Football Focus" and "Final Score" while "Match of the Day", which was originally taken off, will only last for 20 minutes instead of its usual 90 minutes on Saturday night (UK time). 

This has seen the BBC apologise as they will only air "limited sport programming" over the weekend and is "working hard to resolve the situation", a spokesperson for the broadcaster said. 

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

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

The uproar comes after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new law earlier in the week that bars the entry of asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the Channel.

Former England football captain Lineker took to Twitter to describe the legislation as a "cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s."

Gary Lineker.
Gary Lineker. Photo credit: Reuters

A spokeswoman for Sunak was quick to hit back at Lineker's comments saying they were "not acceptable" while interior Minister Suella Braverman said Lineker's reaction to the policy was "offensive".

The BBC responded by taking Lineker off air as they said there needed to be an agreed position on his use of social media before he can return to presenting.

But this has seen a mass walkout by members of the BBC's sports department while other high profile figures lept to the defence of Lineker - who is the BBC's highest-paid presenter and the anchor of the flagship football highlights programme "Match of the Day".

Regular "Match of the Day" co-hosts Alan Shearer and Ian Wright supported their colleague and walked out in solidarity leading to the show being taken off air. 

"I have informed the BBC that I won't be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night", while Wright had posted: "Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I've told the BBC I won't be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity."

The regular co-hosts were widely applauded for their walkout with Soccer Saturday host Jeff Stelling saying "well played Wrighty" while Jeremy Clarkson said, "Good on you mate". 

Pundits Alex Scott, Jermaine Jenas, Mark Chapman and Micah Richards followed suit while former England striker Jermain Defoe has said he will not appear as planned on Sunday's Match of the Day 2.

"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," former England and Arsenal defender Scott wrote on Twitter.

"Hopefully I will be back in the chair next week...," she added.

The BBC was condemned by high-profile figures from around the UK with Sky Sports News Kaveh Solhekol slamming the BBC. 

He tore into the BBC for their alleged hypocrisy in how he has been treated.

Controversial broadcaster Piers Morgan, a friend of Lineker's, also tweeted his disgust saying the decision by the BBC was "pathetically spineless".

"I now demand the BBC suspend every presenter who has made public comment about news or current affairs - starting with Sir David Attenborough and Lord Sugar," Morgan Tweeted. 

Former BBC director general Greg Dyke said the BBC had undermined its own credibility by creating a perception that it had "bowed to government pressure". 

Current UK Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said the BBC was "not acting impartially by caving into Tory MPs who are complaining about Gary Lineker".

BBC's director general Tim Davie said he will not resign over the Lineker fallout saying it's been a "difficult day" and apologised for the disruption to programming. 

"I'm sorry audiences have been affected and they haven't got the programming.

"As a keen sports fan I know to miss programming is a real blow and I'm sorry about that. We are working very hard to resolve this situation and make sure we get output on air."

Davie added: "Everyone wants to calmly resolve the situation. Gary Lineker's the best in the business - that's not for debate". 

A Manchester City fan holds up a sign in support of Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker ahead of the Premier League match at Selhurst Park, London.
A Manchester City fan holds up a sign in support of Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker ahead of the Premier League match at Selhurst Park, London. Photo credit: Getty Images

Lineker didn't answer questions from the media as he left his London home on Saturday, and did not reply to questions from reporters on arrival at the King Power Stadium in Leicester where he went to watch his former club play.

Fans at the stadium could be seen holding up signs supporting the presenter, with one reading: "I'm with Gary. Migrants welcome."