Gary Lineker will not ‘back down on his word’, according to his son

Gary Lineker’s son has said he thinks the sports presenter will return to Match Of The Day – but that he would not “back down on his word”, according to reports.

In an interview with The Sunday Mirror, the former England player’s eldest son George claimed his father had been “a bit disappointed” by the BBC asking him to step back from hosting Saturday’s Match Of The Day (MOTD) after he compared the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany in a tweet.

However, he said Lineker had been “overwhelmed by the support” of fellow pundits who had withdrawn from various BBC sports shows in solidarity with him, particularly his MOTD co-presenters Ian Wright and Alan Shearer.

George Lineker told The Sunday Mirror: “Dad is a good man, a good human, and I’m proud of him for standing by his word. That’s why he was pulled off the show – because he wouldn’t apologise. But he will always speak up for people who don’t have a voice.

“He is passionate about helping refugee charities – he took in two refugees who he is still in touch with and trying to help.

“It means a lot to him to stand up for people whose only hope is to escape a country with only the clothes on their back. That’s why he’s been so firm.

“Will he go back to Match of the Day? I think so – he loves Match of the Day. But he won’t ever back down on his word.”

Saturday’s Match Of The Day aired for only 20 minutes and did not include accompanying commentary or analysis from pundits or even its famous theme tune – instead broadcasting only short highlight clips of the day’s matches.

Ahead of the show starting, a continuity announcer said: “Now on BBC One, we’re sorry that we’re unable to show our normal Match Of The Day including commentary tonight. But here now is the best action from today’s Premier League matches.”

Several of the broadcaster’s other football shows were pulled at the last minute on Saturday as more presenters and reporters withdrew, with neither Football Focus nor Final Score airing – while 5 Live’s radio coverage was radically altered throughout the day.

The BBC director-general apologised for the disruption caused to the broadcaster’s sports programming, but confirmed he will not resign over the Lineker impartiality row.

GQ Men of the Year Awards
Gary and George Lineker (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Tim Davie told BBC News in Washington, DC on Saturday: “I’m very sorry for the disruption today. It’s been a difficult day and I’m sorry that audiences have been affected and they haven’t got the programming.

“As a keen sports fan, I know like everyone that to miss programming is a real blow and I am sorry about that.

“We are working very hard to resolve the situation and make sure that we get output back on air.”

The director-general said that he would not go into too much detail about the discussions being had, but that “everyone wants to calmly resolve the situation”.

“I would say Gary Lineker is a superb broadcaster. He’s the best in the business, that’s not for debate,” he added.

“To be clear, success for me is: Gary gets back on air and together we are giving to the audiences that world-class sports coverage which, as I say, I’m sorry we haven’t been able to deliver today.”

BBC director-general Tim Davie talks to BBC News in the US (BBC).
BBC director-general Tim Davie talks to BBC News in the US (BBC).

Mr Davie also said that he does not feel this is about “left or right” politics, but about the corporation’s ability to balance free speech and impartiality, adding: “We’re fierce champions of democratic debate, free speech, but with that comes the need to create an impartial organisation.”

Asked if he would resign as “there are many people in the UK that simply do not trust you”, Mr Davie said: “Absolutely not.

“I think my job is to serve licence fee payers and deliver a BBC that is really focused on world-class, impartial landmark output – and I look forward to resolving this situation and looking forward to delivering that.”

A snap YouGov poll has said 53% of the British public think the BBC was wrong to suspend Lineker from Match Of The Day following his comments on the Government’s asylum policy.

The data found also that 27% thought the broadcaster was right to suspend him – while 20% did not know.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement that the row surrounding Lineker and the BBC is “a matter for them, not the Government”, as he acknowledged “not everyone will always agree” with his new asylum policy.

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 on Saturday (Mike Egerton/PA)

Mr Davie was also asked by BBC’s Nomia Iqbal about BBC chairman Richard Sharp, who has faced growing calls to resign his position over the cronyism row caused by him helping Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility.

Reflecting on why Mr Sharp still had a job, he said: “In terms of the chairman, I have a lot of responsibilities in this job for thousands of people, one thing I don’t do is the appointment as the chair.

“The way in which the board is hired and that role is a different thing to editorially me running the BBC, making those decisions, trying to be fair, and getting a BBC that is truly impartial.”

The broadcaster’s Sunday sports programming remains up in the air with Match Of The Day 2 also thrown into question after football pundit Jermain Defoe announced he would not appear.

The former England striker tweeted on Saturday: “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.”

Further doubt was cast as sports broadcaster Mark Chapman, who is due to host Match Of The Day 2, did not present for BBC Radio 5 Live Sport on Saturday.

Gabby Logan is also due to host live coverage from 2.15pm as Scotland play Ireland at Murrayfield for the Six Nations Rugby.

The Welsh presenter has not yet commented on whether she will present the show or not.

The Women’s Football Show is also scheduled to air from 11.45pm for more than 40 minutes, but it could also be affected by the BBC only airing “limited sport programming” this weekend.