Match Of The Day viewing figures up half a million amid Lineker impartiality row

Match Of The Day was watched by about half a million more viewers on Saturday than last weekend’s show as it aired without commentary or analysis from pundits following a boycott in “solidarity” with Gary Lineker.

The BBC One football highlights programme had an average audience of 2.6 million on Saturday night compared with the 2.1 million viewers who tuned in last Saturday, according to BBC overnight figures.

However, this Saturday’s show was radically different as it aired for only 20 minutes and did not include presenters or even its famous theme tune – instead broadcasting only short highlight clips of the day’s matches.

On Friday, former England internationals Alan Shearer and Ian Wright announced their boycott of this weekend’s programme after Lineker was asked to step back from hosting the show by the BBC for comparing the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany in a tweet.

Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker file photo
Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker (Owen Humphreys/PA)

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 disruption to the broadcaster’s sports schedule for TV and radio has rolled on for a second consecutive day.

Sunday’s Match Of The Day 2 will follow a similar reduced format to last night’s programme, the PA news agency understands.

The show was thrown into question on Saturday 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.”

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

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.

The Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Manchester United aired on BBC Two on Sunday afternoon without a pre-match presentation and with world feed commentary used instead of regular BBC presenters.

However, Gabby Logan is hosting live coverage of the Six Nations as Scotland play Ireland at Murrayfield.

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