Talks over Gary Lineker’s return 'moving in the right direction' after chaotic weekend for BBC sport

Talks between the BBC and Gary Lineker were last night said to be “moving in the right direction” with the presenter poised to return following a chaotic weekend for the broadcaster.

The BBC said there were “hopes of a resolution soon, but not all issues are ‘fully resolved’ at this stage”.

Football coverage on BBC TV and radio shows was hit across the weekend as pundits walked out in “solidarity” with Lineker after the former England player was told to stand down from presenting Match Of The Day when he compared language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany.

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Match Of The Day aired for only 20 minutes on Saturday without accompanying commentary or analysis from presenters, and Sunday’s edition ran for a reduced 15 minutes. In Scotland, Sportscene was shown with commentary but without studio presentation or analysis.

Gary Lineker returns home with his dog on SundayGary Lineker returns home with his dog on Sunday
Gary Lineker returns home with his dog on Sunday

Coverage of the Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Manchester United also aired without a pre-match presentation, and with world feed commentary used instead of regular BBC presenters.

For a second day, Radio 5 Live also replaced its usual live sports coverage with pre-recorded content.

The station did provide match commentary from its two scheduled Premier League games but the presenter said it had been a “very difficult decision” to come on air.

Lineker said he “can’t say anything” on the future of his presenting career when he left his home in Barnes, south-west London, to walk his dog yesterday morning.

Asked whether he had spoken to BBC director-general Tim Davie overnight, he provided no response. Mr Davie has apologised for the disruption to the sporting schedule but said he would not resign.

It is the latest controversy to hit the corporation after its chairman, Richard Sharp, became embroiled in a cronyism row over helping Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan. The BBC also faces a strike on Wednesday when up to 1,000 journalists areexpected to walk out on the day Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is due to deliver his Spring Budget.

Peter Salmon, who was previously controller of BBC One and director of sport, said the situation was “complex” and Lineker was a “major figure”.

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He added: “Twenty-five years in Match Of The Day – he’s more than just a TV presenter, he’s a national figure.

“He’s got views, he’s got passions, he’s been involved in looking after Ukrainian refugees. It may be that Gary’s outgrown the job and the role in the BBC.

“Twenty-five years in, before that Des Lynam, Gary took over, he’s been brilliant. Sometimes there’s a point at which you cross the line.”

Reflecting on the disruption to the BBC’s sports schedule, he added: “It’s a mess, isn’t it?

“They must be wishing they could reel back 72 hours and start all over again. It’s Oscars day but there’s no awards for how this has been managed.”

Former BBC director-general Mark Thompson said he “absolutely hopes” and “believes” Mr Davie will survive the row.On Sunday, Mr Hunt rowed back from demanding an apology for Lineker’s comments.Asked if he still thinks the TV pundit should apologise, he said: “I don’t agree with his comments and I personally think that he was wrong to say what he said, but I don’t think it’s for me to decide how that issue is resolved.“If you believe in BBC independence, then it’s not for the Chancellor or any other Government minister to say how these issues are resolved.”Asked whether the corporation’s leadership is too close to the party of Government, Mr Hunt said it is not for him “to make those judgments”. Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves criticised Tory MPs for “putting pressure” on the BBC to take Lineker off air.She said: “I wouldn’t have used the language that Gary Lineker used.“But do I think he should be taken off TV from doing commentary on the football? No, I don’t. And I think that was out of proportion.”She said Tory MPs had nothing to say when Mr Sharp was found to have helped facilitate a loan for Mr Johnson.Ex-England football star John Barnes said the BBC wants to “pick and choose” when its presenters can be impartial.



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