Gary Lineker’s tweets and the BBC’s response caused public backlash and a weekend of disrupted sports programing as fellow presenters walked out in protest.
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LONDON — The BBC, Britain’s public service broadcaster, agreed on Monday that star soccer presenter Gary Lineker can return to air and pledged to hold a review of its social media guidance after an impartiality dispute.
The corporation said Lineker, a former England soccer player-turned-TV host and the organization’s highest-paid star, would return to its flagship soccer highlights show “Match of the Day” this coming weekend.
It follows a weekend in which the BBC’s sports coverage was plunged into chaos after Lineker was forced to “step back” from presenting after criticizing government policy. The move prompted many of his colleagues to walk out in solidarity.
Director General Tim Davie said, “Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this.”
Davie said the broadcaster would launch “a review led by an independent expert – reporting to the BBC – on its existing social media guidance, with a particular focus on how it applies to freelancers outside news and current affairs.”
“Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary, and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend,” he added.
Lineker said via Twitter, “After a surreal few days, I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this.”
“I want to thank you all for the incredible support, particularly my colleagues at BBC Sport, for the remarkable show of solidarity. Football is a team game but their backing was overwhelming,” he added.
“A final thought: however difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away. It’s heartwarming to have seen the empathy towards their plight from so many of you,” Lineker said.
How did the crisis unfold?
Last week, Lineker posted a comment on Twitter in response to the U.K.’s latest immigration policy, which the BBC considered in breach of its impartiality rules.
The comments led to Lineker’s suspension, a very public backlash, and a weekend of disrupted sports programming on both TV and radio as fellow presenters walked out in protest. The BBC’s response led to walkouts among Lineker’s colleagues, including Ian Wright, Alan Shearer and Alex Scott, which disrupted sports programing across Saturday and Sunday.
The U.K. government posted a video of Interior Minister Suella Braverman outlining the new Illegal Migration Bill designed to prevent people from crossing the English Channel in small boats. Those people would be immediately returned to their home country or a “safe third country” such as Rwanda, Braverman said.
Lineker reposted the video, with the comment: “Good heavens, this is beyond awful.”
The remarks led to a whirlwind of responses across social media, prompting Lineker to post a follow-up tweet describing the bill as: “Immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
The BBC suspended Lineker, who is employed by the broadcaster on a freelance basis, on Friday.
“We consider [Lineker’s] recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines,” a BBC statement at the time read.
The BBC apologized for the “limited sports programming” it was able to provide in their absence — including a shortened version of “Match of the Day” without any commentators or panelists — and said it recognized it would be “disappointing” for BBC sports fans.
The BBC said: “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.”