Gary Lineker, the BBC’s highest-paid TV presenter, has been pulled from presenting Match of the Day after taking to Twitter to criticize the U.K. government’s new refugee asylum policy earlier in the week.
Lineker will remain off air until he and the BBC negotiate how the high-profile TV soccer host can use his social media account without breaking the public broadcaster’s journalism impartiality code.
“The BBC has been in extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days,” a spokesperson for the U.K. broadcaster said in a statement on Friday. “We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines.”
The pubcaster added, “The BBC has decided that he [Lineker] will step back from presenting ‘Match of the Day’ until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.”
On Tuesday, after the U.K. government unveiled plans to bar refugees from entering the country illegally — and mainly by crossing the English channels in small boats via people smuggler rings — Lineker on his Twitter account branded the proposed legislation an “immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ’30s.”
Lineker had no direct comment on Friday about his forced absence from this weekend’s hosting role, but on Thursday on Twitter said he looked forward to appearing on the BBC this weekend. “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,” he tweeted.
The former pro soccer player and TV host in the past has defended his social media comments on grounds that he’s a freelancer and not employed by the BBC directly. The BBC in its statement defended Lineker as “second to none” in leading the broadcaster’s soccer and sports coverage.
But the pubcaster has judged his criticism of the U.K. government to have breached its strict social media impartiality rules. “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 said in its statement.
Fellow Match of the Day pundits, including Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, who are also former soccer players, said they too will not be appearing on the scheduled Saturday TV show out of solidarity with Lineker.
“Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow,” Wright said on his Twitter account in support of Lineker, who has housed refugees in his home, has hosted Match of the Day since 1999. “Solidarity.”