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BBC apologises as sports shows pulled amid boycott by presenters and pundits

BBC apologises as sports shows pulled amid boycott by presenters and pundits

The BBC has apologised after it was forced to pull several sports programmes following a boycott by presenters and pundits in support of Gary Lineker.

The broadcaster said it would air only “limited sport programming” over the weekend and was “working hard to resolve the situation”.

Saturday’s TV and radio sporting timetables were changed at the last minute and Sunday’s Match Of The Day has also been thrown into
question.

It comes after Lineker was told to step back from hosting the Saturday edition of the football highlights programme in a row over impartiality.

The show will be limited to around 20 minutes and will not include accompanying commentary or analysis due to the broadcaster not having the rights to the Premier League’s global commentary feed, according to reports.

Sports presenters including Alex Scott, Kelly Somers and Jason Mohammad said on Saturday that they were pulling out of their shows, which resulted in Football Focus and Final Score being scrapped from the BBC One schedule, while 5 Live’s radio coverage was also altered.

In a statement, 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.”

Leicester City v Chelsea – Premier League – King Power Stadium
Gary Lineker (Mike Egerton/PA)

The corporation’s director of sport, Barbara Slater, also issued an apology to staff for the disruption to the schedule.

Within the letter, Ms Slater said: “We are sorry about the impact that the news relating to Gary Lineker and Match Of The Day is having across the department this weekend.

“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.”

On Saturday, Bargain Hunt aired in place of Football Focus on BBC One at noon, while The Repair Shop is due to run instead of Final Score at 4.30pm.

Match Of The Day is due to go ahead on Saturday evening without a presenter, pundits and several regular commentators, but the Sunday edition may also face disruption after football pundit Jermain Defoe announced he would not appear.

Defoe tweeted: “It’s always such a privilege to work with BBC MOTD. But tomorrow I have taken the decision to stand down from my punditry duties. @GaryLineker.”

BBC Radio 5 Live was also affected on Saturday, with Mark Chapman not presenting for 5 Live Sport or Fighting Talk.

His stance throws further doubt into whether Match Of The Day 2 will air as normal on Sunday as he is due to host.

BBC presenter Colin Murray said in a tweet about 5 Live’s Fighting Talk not airing: “No @FightingTalk316 today, for obvious reasons.

“In the interest of transparency, this was a decision taken by the entire FT team and myself.”

Pre-recorded content replaced the live broadcasts with The Kammy & Ben’s Proper Football Podcast aired during Fighting Talk’s slot followed by The Footballer’s Football Podcast which played on Radio 5 Live when 5 Live Sport would have aired.

Leicester City v Chelsea – Premier League – King Power Stadium
Gary Lineker reacts in the stands during the Premier League match at the King Power Stadium, Leicester (Mike Egerton/PA)

Amid the disruption, Lineker was pictured watching the Premier League match between Leicester City and Chelsea on Saturday afternoon.

The 62-year-old former England player was taken off air for a tweet which compared the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany.

The broadcaster said it had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting Match Of The Day until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.

Former England footballers Alan Shearer and Ian Wright later announced on Friday night they would be boycotting MOTD in solidarity with Lineker, while several commentators also confirmed they would be stepping down from Saturday’s broadcast.

In a joint statement, the commentators – including Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Rowen and Steven Wyeth – said they did “not feel it would be appropriate to take part in the programme” given the current circumstances.

The BBC previously said the programme would “focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry”, saying it understood the position of its presenters.

On Saturday morning, Former Arsenal star and England player Scott joined her fellow presenters by confirming she would not host Football Focus.

She wrote on Twitter: “I made a decision last night that even though I love my show and we have had an incredible week winning an SJA for football focus that it doesn’t feel right for me to go ahead with the show today.

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

Sports presenter Somers also announced she would not be presenting any BBC show on Saturday and pundit Glenn Murray pulled out of appearing on Football Focus and Final Score on Saturday.

Welsh presenter Mohammad also confirmed he would not be hosting Final Score, while football footballers-turned-pundits Dion Dublin and Leon Osman both said they would not appear on Radio 5 Live in support of their BBC Sport colleagues.

The senior football reporter for 5 Live, Ian Dennis, did appear on the airwaves on Saturday but admitted it had been a “very difficult” day.

During his commentary, he said: “It’s also a very difficult time for BBC Sport and for those who work in the department. We all hope that that gets resolved.

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

Amid the backlash, the former BBC director-general Greg Dyke said the corporation had made a “mistake” and “undermined its own credibility” by taking Lineker off air.

Meanwhile, Richard Ayre, former controller of editorial policy at the BBC, praised Lineker as a “naturally gifted television presenter”, but said the broadcaster’s reputation is “bigger and more important” than any individual.

A spokesman for the Professional Footballers’ Association said in a statement on Twitter that it had “been informed that players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with Match Of The Day”.

It continued: “The PFA have been speaking to members who wanted to take a collective position and to be able to show their support for those who have chosen not to be part of tonight’s programme.

“During those conversations we made clear that, as their union, we would support all members who might face consequences for choosing not to complete their broadcast commitments.

“This is a common sense decision that ensures players won’t now be put in that position.”

The Sports Journalists’ Association (SJA) also said it “fully supports” the freedom of speech of its members and colleagues within the industry following the boycott.