Gary Lineker resigns from ‘Match of the Day’, inspiring BBC boycott


LONDON – There is only one feverish topic of conversation the UK consumed this weekend: football. But it’s not what goes on between two rival teams on the pitch that causes excitement.

Instead, it is a heated debate over freedom of expression, impartiality and a proposed government immigration law that appears to have pitted two hugely popular British institutions – the BBC public broadcaster and football, including its most famous presenters and commentators – against one another.

Several BBC TV and radio sports programs have been canceled this weekend as presenters, football stars and commentators boycotted the channel, including popular Saturday night sports show Match of the Day – which has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the most longest running football TV show in history.

So what exactly is going on?

Well, it all started when the UK government proposed this week to send almost all asylum seekers arriving across the English Channel on small boats back to their homeland or to a “safe third country” like Rwanda. The bill has been criticized by human rights groups, and the United Nations has called it a “clear violation” of international law.

Among the critics was the former England football captain to TV star Gary Lineker, who hosts Match of the Day – which bills itself as “the most famous football show in the world” and is watched by millions.

Lineker condemned the government proposal as “an immeasurably cruel policy aimed at the most vulnerable,” in one tweet Tuesday, who compared the language of government to the language of “Germany in the 1930s”.

In doing so, he triggered a wave of opinion on both sides of the political spectrum. Many pushed him to stay out of politics and stick to football Other championed him as the moral conscience of the people.

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conservative politicians criticized Lineker’s tweet while his employer, the BBC, came under pressure right commentators to sanction him.

The transmitter one of the most trusted news sources and a producer of some of the country’s most popular television entertainment – is publicly funded and has strict impartiality and social media policies for its employees working in the news space, preventing them from voicing opinions on controversial subjects.

After days of pressure, the BBC said on Friday that Lineker’s social media activities were indeed “a violation” of its policies and that Lineker would therefore do so “Hold off presenting Game of the Day until we have an agreed and clear position on its use of social media.”

The reaction was quick.

Lineker’s fellow presenters and side commentators said they would not appear in the Match of the Day out of “solidarity” with Lineker, and fans began urging players not to give the BBC post-match interviews.

The BBC was forced to announce that it would broadcast Match of the Day in a nude format, with no studio presenters or pundits. The boycott also spread to other BBC TV and radio sports programmes, resulting in hours of footage being pulled at the last minute, the BBC reported.

On Twitter, hashtags #ImWithGary and #BoycottBBC both trended Saturday as people vowed to boycott the show, and a petition to reinstate Lineker has garnered nearly 180,000 signatures so far.

Britain’s opposition Labor Party has called The BBC’s decision was “cowardly” and “an attack on freedom of expression”, while the National Union of Journalists called it a “massive own goal” and added that “giving in to sustained political pressure is as stupid as it is dangerous.” ”

The BBC, which denies giving in to political pressure, did not respond to a Washington Post request for comment.

The general mood in the BBC’s newsroom on Friday night was shocked, according to a journalist who agreed to speak openly about his job on condition of anonymity.

The journalist joked they would remove their BBC badge when they left the building for the day – a nod to how popular Lineker is with much of the public and how contentious the dispute has become across Britain.

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Employee use of social media, impartiality, and expression of opinion have regularly generated controversy and debate, including at The Washington Post.

However, many of Lineker’s supporters have also argued that the BBC’s impartiality guidelines target staff working in news rather than pundits or sports presenters. The BBC has previously argued that as one of the BBC’s most high-profile stars, Lineker has an “additional responsibility” to the BBC.

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British press expert and former newspaper editor Alan Rusbridger told The Post on Saturday that the focus on Lineker and the BBC is likely a “godsend” to the government, creating a distraction from the underlying issue of its immigration and asylum stance.

“Everyone’s arguing about Gary Lineker and not the policy they just announced,” he said.

He added that the BBC had a range of “enemies”, from commercial competitors to political parties of all persuasions, and had a hard time upholding strict rules on impartiality. “There is a culture war here. The BBC gets pulled into this because it has a huge output… about music, sport, politics, current affairs.”

“There will be something that offends culture fighters on one side or the other.”

A former BBC chief executive, Greg Dyke, made a rare public statement on Saturday against the company he formerly ran, declaring that “the BBC has undermined its own credibility” with the Lineker debacle. “There is long-established precedent at the BBC that as an entertainment or sports presenter you are not bound by the same rules,” he said of the company’s impartiality policies.

However, the BBC’s current director-general, Tim Davie, stood by the channel’s decision. tell a BBC reporter: “We always try to take appropriate action and we have.”

Lineker, who previously opened his home to at least two refugees, has been an outspoken critic of the government on asylum issues and has been reprimanded by the BBC in the past. He has yet to comment publicly on his sanctioning, and his representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post.

However, earlier in the week he tweeted thanks to the supporters. “I want to thank each and every one of you. … I will continue to try to speak up for these poor souls who have no voice.”

Helier Cheung in London contributed to this report. Gary Lineker resigns from ‘Match of the Day’, inspiring BBC boycott

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