Britain’s BBC battles mutiny in its sports department after social media clash

Gary Lineker’s tweets and the BBC’s response caused public backlash and a weekend of disrupted sports programing as fellow presenters walked out in protest.

Hollie Adams / Stringer / Getty Images

LONDON — The BBC, Britain’s public service broadcaster, is trying to navigate itself out of crisis mode following a mutiny within its sports department regarding social media usage.

Gary Lineker, a former England soccer player-turned TV host and the organization’s highest-paid star, posted a comment on Twitter Tuesday in response to the U.K.’s latest immigration policy, which the BBC considered in breach of its impartiality rules.

The comments led to Lineker’s suspension, a very public backlash and a weekend of disrupted sports programing on both TV and radio as fellow presenters walked out in protest.

The U.K. government posted a video of Interior Minister Suella Braverman outlining the new Illegal Migration Bill designed to prevent people from crossing the English Channel in small boats. Those people would be immediately returned to their home country or a “safe third country” such as Rwanda, Braverman said. 

Lineker reposted the video, with the comment: “Good heavens, this is beyond awful.”

The remarks led to a whirlwind of responses across social media, prompting Lineker to post a follow-up tweet describing the bill as: “Immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”

The BBC suspended Lineker, who is employed by the broadcaster on a freelance basis, on Friday.

“We consider [Lineker’s] recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines,” a BBC statement read.

The BBC’s response led to walkouts among Lineker’s colleagues, which disrupted sports programing across Saturday and Sunday.

The BBC apologized for the “limited sports programming” it was able to provide in their absence — including a shortened version of the flagship highlights show “Match of the Day” without any commentators or panelists — and said it recognized it would be “disappointing” for BBC sports fans.

The BBC said: “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.”

BBC News reported Sunday that talks between the BBC and Gary Lineker were thought to be “moving in the right direction” with hopes the issue will soon be resolved.

Lineker could return to host “Match of the Day” next weekend, according to reports by British newspaper The Telegraph.

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