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Faced with ‘mutiny', BBC forced to reinstate sports presenter Lineker

Gary Lineker, former England soccer player-turned-TV host

The BBC has been forced to reinstate Gary Lineker after facing a full-on sports mutiny in the wake of his suspension due to criticizing the government’s new asylum policy.

Britain's public service broadcaster said on Monday the former England soccer player-turned-TV host can return to its soccer highlights show Match of the Day this coming weekend.

Lineker was forced to “step back” from presenting after criticizing government’s new asylum policy on Friday.

The UK 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.”

The BBC, which considered the message in breach of its impartiality rules, told Linker to apologize for his tweets or he would be unable to present Match of the Day at the weekend. When he refused to do so, he was taken off air.

The move triggered an unprecedented wave of walkouts from Lineker’s colleagues and commentators and left the corporation’s sports coverage in a chaos. The staff accused opposition politicians and commentators that BBC had bowed to pressure from the government.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak intervened to say he hoped the situation could be resolved soon.

Director General Tim Davie apologized to the audience on Monday. “Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary, and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend.”

“Everyone recognizes this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologies for this.”

Lineker also reacted to the development in a Twitter message. “After a surreal few days, I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this.”

“I want to thank you all for the incredible support, particularly my colleagues at BBC Sport, for the remarkable show of solidarity. Football is a team game but their backing was overwhelming,” he said.

“A final thought: however difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away. It’s heartwarming to have seen the empathy towards their plight from so many of you.”

The BBC, which attempted to frame the row over Lineker as a question of preserving impartiality, did not take any action when he raised questions about Qatar’s human rights record during the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Supporters of Lineker, who has more than 10 million followers on social media, have argued that his removal proved the corporation was being influenced by a government-led coverage agenda.

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