I won’t quit over Lineker, BBC boss declares amid impartiality crisis

On a day that saw a mass exodus of pundits and presenters, MOTD was set to air for only 20 minutes last night with no commentary or interviews and there were questions over whether Match of the Day 2 will air this evening after presenter Mark Chapman pulled out.


BBC Radio 5 Live’s sports schedule collapsed, with the advertised five hours of live football commentary from midday being hastily replaced with minutes’ notice by a series of old podcasts, leaving Premier League coverage suspended.

Football Focus and Final Score were also wiped from BBC One’s schedule after Alex Scott, Kelly Somers and Jason Mohammad refused to appear and reporters pulled out too, with the shows being replaced with Bargain Hunt and The Repair Shop respectively.

Mr Davie said: “I’m very sorry for the disruption today. It’s been a difficult day and I am sorry that audiences have been affected and they haven’t got their programming. We are working very hard to resolve the situation and make sure we get output back on air.”

Last night, the prime minister was forced to intervene, urging the BBC to resolve the crisis in a “timely manner” but adding that it is “a matter for them, not the government” to handle. Downing Street sources declined to comment on whether Rishi Sunak supported BBC leadership in their handling of the furore.

The entrance to the headquarters of the BBC at Broadcasting House in central London, UK.Credit:Bloomberg

Frantic emergency meetings were being held at BBC Television Centre in London and Media City in Salford yesterday and staff have been invited to crisis talks over Zoom and in person tomorrow.

Producers across BBC Sport were ringing around “talent” in a desperate search for anyone prepared to break what had essentially become an invisible picket line.

In a leaked message to staff, Barbara Slater, director of sport, apologised for the disruption, adding: “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.”

One senior BBC insider described the decision to pull Lineker off air as “terrible timing”, adding: “It’s a news story at one level and it’s awkward at another.”


Insiders also said the walkout by sports presenters stood in stark contrast to the mood in the newsroom, where there was a “widespread view” that Lineker’s tweet broke impartiality rules. The senior insider said: “Before, and obviously moods will have changed as a result of what’s happened now and there’ll be lots of anxiety about what’s happening now, but before that a lot of people around the newsroom were saying: ‘Of course you can’t say that.’ That was quite a widespread view.”

The source said many journalists were feeling “very edgy and nervous”, but added: “It was not the case, even among quite young people on news desks, that they were going: ‘How dare Gary Lineker be told what to do?’”

One presenter said of Mr Davie’s handling of the row: “It’s so unnecessary, it’s such a disaster. It’s because of the contrast between his handling of Gary Lineker and the inconsistency of it with some people [who] can sort of do what they want.”

The presenter added: “I think Richard Sharp should go. He should have gone weeks ago, but people like that are always the last people to go.”

Another BBC journalist added: “No one’s happy with the way it’s been handled but we’d all prefer to be actually reporting the news than any further navel gazing.”

A former BBC news editor said the newsroom would agree about Lineker’s tweet being in breach of guidelines, but would “compare and contrast how the chairman is allowed to stay”.

Mr Davie now faces the prospect of being hauled in front of the culture select committee. Kevin Brennan, a member of the committee, said the BBC’s handling of the affair had been “utterly pathetic”.

The Labour MP told

the Telegraph, London: “It should never have come to this. What does it matter what Gary Lineker thinks about anything? They’ve turned something that’s completely trivial into an existential crisis for the BBC.”

He added that the BBC leadership had “lost the dressing room” and displayed “absolutely appalling mismanagement” by “just giving way to political pressure”.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, also criticised the BBC’s decision. “The BBC is not acting impartially by caving in to Tory MPs who are complaining about Gary Lineker,” he said.

Gary Lineker leaves his home on March 11, 2023 in London, England.

Gary Lineker leaves his home on March 11, 2023 in London, England. Credit:Getty Images

“They got this one badly wrong and now they’re very, very exposed.”

Roger Mosey, a former head of BBC television, said: “Richard Sharp should go. He damages the BBC’s credibility.”

Sharp said he had never hidden his long-standing relationship with Mr Johnson and insisted that his appointment as BBC chairman was fair. The Liberal Democrats called for Sharp to resign from his position.

Meanwhile, anger on the Tory backbenches grew, with 37 Tory MPs and peers writing to Davie urging him to take further disciplinary action against Lineker and force him to apologise for the incident.

Bill Cash, a veteran Tory MP, said it is “inevitable” that the Lineker affair will “set the scene for government decisions about how to make improvements, including impartiality, which are bound to loom large when the review is completed in May this year”.

Davie, who was at the BBC’s offices in Washington last night, was locked in talks with advisers to try and resolve the dispute with Lineker.

The director general is scheduled to return to London tomorrow.

It is understood that BT Sport has not held any discussions with Lineker about returning to the broadcaster as a presenter.

The Telegraph, London

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