BBC acknowledges ‘strength of feeling’ among staff as programmes taken off air in Lineker row

The BBC has said it “understands the strength of feeling” among staff about Gary Lineker’s suspension as it battles to get regular football programming back on the air.

Final Score and Football Focus were pulled from BBC One on Saturday after their respective hosts, Jason Mohammad and Alex Scott, said they would not be hosting their shows.

Other presenters, pundits and commentators also refused to appear after the corporation said Lineker would be “stepping back” from presenting Match of the Day.

The BBC has said Lineker breached its social media guidelines by criticising government policy on migration.

In an email to staff, the corporation’s director of sport, Barbara Slater, said: “We understand how unsettling this is for all of you – the staff in BBC Sport and our freelance community.

“And we understand the strength of feeling which has been generated by this issue.”

Ms Slater added: “Individual heads of department and lead editors will be updating teams as and when they can, so if you have any specific questions about your role, please contact your line manager.

“We are working hard to resolve the situation and we will update you as soon as possible.”

On Saturday afternoon the BBC returned to some semblance of normality as it covered Italy versus Wales in the Six Nations rugby tournament and Leeds versus Brighton in football’s Premier League.

Radio 5 Live football commentator Ian Dennis, at Elland Road, said: “It’s a very difficult time for BBC Sport, for those that work in the department and we all hope that that gets resolved.

“Personally I found today very difficult, but I’m a BBC staff member, I’m a radio commentator for BBC Radio 5 Live, and today, like every Saturday afternoon, we provide a service to you, the audience.”

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Gary Lineker seen leaving house amid BBC row

Lineker did not answer reporters’ questions when he left his home in Barnes, southwest London, this morning.

The 62-year-old former England striker then travelled to Leicester’s King Power stadium to see his hometown club play Chelsea.

The Sports Journalists’ Association said it “fully supports its members and industry colleagues on freedom of speech”.

It tweeted: “The SJA would like to express its solidarity on this matter and will continue to monitor developments on the BBC and Gary Lineker story.”

Former England star Alex Scott tweeted that even though she loves presenting Football Focus it “just doesn’t feel right going ahead with the show today”.

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

BBC accused of ‘assault on free speech’ – Lineker row latest updates

Jason Mohammad commented: “As you know, Final Score is a TV show very close to my heart.

“However, I have this morning informed the BBC that I will not be presenting the show this afternoon on BBC One.”

Radio host Mark Chapman withdrew from hosting BBC Radio 5 Live Sport this afternoon, Sky News understands, with the show also being taken off air.

His colleague Dion Dublin also said he would not be appearing on the station, while Jermain Defoe said he will not be in the studio for Match of the Day 2 on Sunday.

Read more: BBC guidelines explained – and do they apply to Lineker?

A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC will only be able to bring limited sport programming this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect that.

“We are sorry for these changes which we recognise will be disappointing for BBC sport fans.

“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”

Match of the Day will go ahead tonight – but without a presenter, pundits or BBC commentators after Lineker was removed from the programme over his tweets criticising the government’s migrants policy.

The BBC has said there will be no “studio presentation or punditry” in Saturday night’s edition, which will instead focus on “match action”.

Which BBC presenters, pundits or commentators have pulled out of shows today?

Alex Scott – hosts Football Focus and other BBC football coverage

Jason Mohammad – has presented Final Score since 2013

Alan Shearer – former England footballer who has presented at the BBC on-and-off since 2006

Ian Wright – another former England star who has presented at the BBC regularly since 2017

Mark Chapman – the regular host of Match of the Day 2 on Sundays, as well as host of 5 Live Sports on Saturdays

Kelly Somers – covers matches for BBC football shows, and was seen as a contender to host Football Focus

Dion Dublin – Former Manchester United player and regular Football Focus pundit – alongside hosting duties for Homes Under The Hammer

Colin Murray – a BBC Radio 5 Live mainstay and hosts the Fighting Talk show on the station

Jermain Defoe – a regular pundit on Match of the Day 2

The BBC has “undermined its own credibility”, a former BBC director-general said earlier on Saturday.

Greg Dyke, also a former chairman of the FA, told Radio 4’s Today programme that the broadcaster was “mistaken” in standing Lineker down.

The row began on Tuesday when Lineker tweeted his thoughts on the government’s new policy to stem the flow of small boats crossing the Channel.

He compared the language used by the government to that used in 1930s Germany, when the Nazis came to power.

The BBC deemed the tweet had broken its editorial guidelines on impartiality and said Lineker had been removed from Match of the Day until an agreement could be reached on his use of social media.

Govt pressure on the BBC may have softened – but Gary Lineker’s suspension isn’t surprising

Rob Powell

Political correspondent


The Gary Lineker row comes at a time when political impartiality at the BBC has been under closer focus than ever before.

Hostility from government may have mellowed since the days Boris Johnson and his Culture Secretary publicly spoke of the prospect of abolishing the licence fee.

But the concern in the Tory party and government about elements of the BBC’s output has not gone away.

The current Director General Tim Davie has made impartiality a core mission for his tenure in office.

Against this backdrop, the removal of Gary Lineker from the airwaves is perhaps no surprise.

The difficult question for the BBC is how much of this drive for balance is down to a genuine attempt to restore trust in the national broadcaster and how much is a result of blunt political pressure.

Labour has accused the BBC of buckling under the weight of a “cancel campaign” from Tory MPs and parts of the press.

The corporation is not helped on this front by the ongoing row about its Chairman Richard Sharp and his connections to Boris Johnson.

But there’s also the broader backdrop of the looming negotiations with the government around the charter renewal and the ongoing mid-term review that will look at issues connected to impartiality.

Ultimately a large part of this row is down to the longstanding contradictions in the BBC’s position as an independent broadcaster that depends on a royal charter negotiated with ministers for its very existence.

Those familiar tensions are now playing out in the modern world of social media where high-profile personalities feel more compelled to speak out on controversial political issues.

Squaring this circle will determine whether Gary Lineker stays at the BBC.

But it will also influence how the corporation operates in the years and decades to come.