The BBC found itself at the centre of a growing storm after it announced Gary Lineker was stepping away from presenting Match of the Day, prompting a massive backlash against the corporation.
Following Friday evening’s announcement, Lineker’s co-hosts Alan Shearer and Ian Wright announced they were withdrawing from Saturday’s flagship football highlights show in support of their colleague.
The BBC responded by stating the show would go ahead without a presenter or the usual contributions from pundits.
A BBC spokesperson said: “Some of our pundits have said that they don’t wish to appear on the programme while we seek to resolve the situation with Gary.
“We understand their position and we have decided that the programme will focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry.”
The corporation said it had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights programme until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.
Lineker, 62, has been embroiled in a row over impartiality after comparing the language used to launch a new Government asylum policy with 1930s Germany on Twitter.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC has been in extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days. We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines.
“The BBC has decided that he will step back from presenting Match of the Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.
“When it comes to leading our football and sports coverage, Gary is second to none. 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.”
The BBC’s announcement was swiftly followed by a tweet from BBC pundit and Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who said he would not appear on the show out of “solidarity” with Lineker.
Shortly afterwards, Newcastle legend Shearer tweeted to say he had “informed the BBC that I won’t be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night.”
Fellow Match Of The Day pundit and former Manchester City defender Micah Richards backed Wright and Shearer’s decision to boycott the show.
“I was not due to be working on MOTD tomorrow, but if I was, I would find myself taking the same decision that @IanWright0 & @alanshearer have,” he tweeted.
Ex-Lionesses star Alex Scott also appeared to rule herself out of the show, while ex-Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas, who also presents on the BBC, said he is standing “with his fellow pundits and Gary Lineker”.
Channel 5 presenter Dan Walker said he messaged Lineker asking: “What is happening. Are you stepping back?”
Lineker responded: “No, they’ve told me I have to step back.”
Lineker, who started his career at home-town club Leicester City, went on to play for teams including Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona in a career that saw him establish himself as one of the game’s great goalscorers.
He won 80 England caps, scoring 48 goals, before retiring from the game in 1994 and forging a media career that saw him replace Des Lynam as the face of football on the BBC.
He is the BBC’s highest paid presenter on around £1.35million a year.
The corporation’s announcement comes a day after Lineker confirmed he had spoken to director-general Tim Davie, but suggested he expected to continue at the helm of the football show.
He tweeted: “Well, it’s been an interesting couple of days. Happy that this ridiculously out of proportion story seems to be abating and very much looking forward to presenting @BBCMOTD on Saturday.
“Thanks again for all your incredible support. It’s been overwhelming.”
Following the news Lineker will not present Match Of The Day on Saturday, former BBC journalist Jon Sopel tweeted: “Lucky there are no producer guidelines on whether you need to declare facilitating an £800k loan to a prime minister while applying for a job as chairman of a broadcasting organisation”.
Sopel’s tweet was referring to the furore over BBC chairman Richard Sharp who is in the middle of a cronyism row over accusations he helped Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility.
Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville, who commentates for Sky Sports, tweeted: “When you take on the Tories and the system! Awful people who we need gone.”
Labour condemned the BBC’s “cowardly decision” to stand Lineker down.
A party source said: “The BBC’s cowardly decision to take Gary Lineker off air is an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure.“Tory politicians lobbying to get people sacked for disagreeing with Government policies should be laughed at, not pandered to. The BBC should rethink their decision.”
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas accused the BBC of “capitulating to this cynical, divisive, populist Tory Government - stop letting yourselves be used to stoke these culture wars”.
Cabinet ministers have criticised Lineker with Home Secretary Suella Braverman accusing him of diminishing the tragedy of the Holocaust.
Ms Braverman said she found the comments “offensive” because her husband is Jewish.
“My children are therefore directly descendant from people who were murdered in gas chambers during the Holocaust,” she told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast.
“To kind of throw out those kind of flippant analogies diminishes the unspeakable tragedy that millions of people went through and I don’t think anything that is happening in the UK today can come close to what happened in the Holocaust.
“So I find it a lazy and unhelpful comparison to make.”
Former Conservative culture secretary Sir John Whittingdale told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme the BBC’s move was “inevitable”.
He said: “The problem is that Gary Lineker has made it clear that he wants to go on tweeting his views.
“And he’s of course entitled to hold his views, but the problem is that he is also a very highly – indeed the highest paid – person working for the BBC and is closely associated with the BBC.
“And I’m afraid those two things are not compatible.”
MPs will debate the Illegal Migration Bill on Monday.
If approved by Parliament, anyone who crosses the Channel in a small boat would be barred from ever re-entering the UK and would only be eligible for asylum in a “safe” third country, such as Rwanda.
Powers would be granted to detain migrants for 28 days without recourse for bail or judicial review, and then indefinitely for as long as there is a “reasonable prospect” of removal.
Mr Davie warned staff about their use of social media when he took on the role at the end of 2020, and guidelines around social media use have since been updated.
Staff were told they need to follow editorial guidelines and editorial oversight in the same way as when doing BBC content.
Lineker is a freelance broadcaster for the BBC, not a permanent member of staff, and is not responsible for news or political content so does not need to adhere to the same rules on impartiality.