By Manuel Sanchez Gomez
London, Mar 11 (EFE).- The BBC’s decision to suspend former England captain Gary Lineker from its soccer highlights program “Match of the Day” over a tweet spurred many other presenters to refuse to appear on air Saturday in solidarity with their colleague.
The state-owned broadcaster announced Friday that Lineker, 62, will not return to the program until the parties reach an agreement governing his use of social media.
Early this week, Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that he will present a bill to Parliament that would deny undocumented migrants arriving in the United Kingdom on small boats the right to apply for asylum.
Lineker said on Twitter that the proposed legislation is a “cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman denounced Lineker’s comment as “offensive” and the BBC said it was suspending its highest-paid presenter for violating the broadcaster’s avowed neutrality.
While Lineker, who won trophies with Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur and was the top scorer in the 1986 World Cup, has raised hackles in the past with some of his tweets, the BBC never took any disciplinary action until now.
“We in the BBC, and myself, are absolutely driven by a passion for impartiality, not left, right or pandering to a particular party,” BBC Director General Tim Davie said Saturday, defending the suspension of Lineker and vowing not to resign.
Four other ex-footballers who regularly appear on “Match of the Day” – Alan Shearer, Ian Wright, Micah Richards, and Jermaine Jenas – refused to take part in Saturday’s program.
England’s Football Association said that Premier League players would not be released from their usual obligation to be interviewed on “Match of the Day.”
The hosts of two other BBC soccer programs, Alex Scott (“Football Focus”) and Jason Mohammad (“Final Score”) also declined to go on the air Saturday.
“Just doesn’t feel right going ahead with the show today,” Scott, a former star with the England women’s national team, wrote on Twitter.
Lineker, who was in the stands Saturday to watch hometown club Leicester City battle Chelsea, declined to respond to questions from journalists.
Greg Dyke, who ran the BBC between 2000 and 2004, told BBC radio earlier Saturday that the suspension was a mistake.
“The perception out there is going to be that Gary Lineker, a much-loved television presenter, was taken off air after government pressure on a particular issue,” Dyke said. EFE