BBC apologises as sports shows pulled amid boycott by presenters and pundits

BBC apologises as sports shows pulled amid boycott by presenters and pundits

The BBC has apologised after it was forced to pull several sports programmes following a boycott by presenters and pundits in support of Gary Lineker.

The broadcaster said it would air only “limited sport programming” over the weekend and was “working hard to resolve the situation”.

Saturday’s TV and radio sporting timetables were changed at the last minute and Sunday’s Match Of The Day 2 has also been thrown into question.

It comes after Lineker was told to step back from hosting the Saturday edition of the highlights programme in a row over impartiality.

Gary Lineker outside his home in London
Gary Lineker outside his home in London (James Manning/PA)

The show will be limited to around 20 minutes and will not include accompanying commentary or analysis due to the broadcaster not having the rights to the Premier League’s global commentary feed, according to reports.

Fellow presenters including Alex Scott, Kelly Somers and Jason Mohammad said they were pulling out of their shows, which resulted in Football Focus and Final Score being scrapped from the BBC One schedule, while 5 Live’s radio coverage was also altered.

In a statement, a BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC will only be able to bring limited sport programming this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect that.

“We are sorry for these changes which we recognise will be disappointing for BBC sport fans.

“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”

BBC director-general Tim Davie later apologised personally for the disruption to the sport schedule but insisted he will not resign from his role.

“I would say Gary Lineker is a superb broadcaster. He’s the best in the business, that’s not for debate,” Davie told BBC News.

“As a keen sports fan, I know like everyone that to miss programming is a real blow and I am sorry about that.

“To be clear, success for me is: Gary gets back on air and together we are giving to the audiences that world-class sports coverage which, as I say, I’m sorry we haven’t been able to deliver today.”

Asked if he would resign as “there are many people in the UK that simply do not trust you”, Mr Davie said: “Absolutely not.

“I think my job is to serve licence fee payers and deliver a BBC that is really focused on world-class, impartial landmark output – and I look forward to resolving this situation and looking forward to delivering that.”

On Saturday, Bargain Hunt aired in place of Football Focus on BBC One at noon, while The Repair Shop ran instead of Final Score at 4.30pm.

Match Of The Day is due to go ahead on Saturday evening without a presenter, pundits and several regular commentators, but the Sunday edition may also face disruption after football pundit Jermain Defoe announced he would not appear.

BBC Radio 5 Live was also affected on Saturday, with host Mark Chapman – who is due to host Match of the Day 2 – not at the helm for 5 Live Sport.

BBC presenter Colin Murray tweeted that 5 Live’s Fighting Talk was not airing “for obvious reasons” in a decision by the entire team.

Pre-recorded content replaced the live broadcasts, with Kammy & Ben’s Proper Football Podcast aired during Fighting Talk’s slot followed by The Footballer’s Football Podcast, which played on Radio 5 Live when 5 Live Sport would have aired.

Lineker did not answer questions from reporters when he left his home in south-west London on Saturday morning.

His son Harry later told reporters that he was on his way to watch Leicester play Chelsea.

As he left to walk the dog, he said: “He has gone to Leicester to watch the game. He will be back this evening.”

Former Arsenal star and England player Scott earlier in the day confirmed she would not host Football Focus, writing on Twitter: “I made a decision last night that even though I love my show and we have had an incredible week winning an SJA (Sports Journalists Association Award) for football focus that it doesn’t feel right for me to go ahead with the show today.

“Hopefully I will be back in the chair next week.”

Somers also confirmed she would not be presenting any BBC show on Saturday, after former England footballers Alan Shearer and Ian Wright announced on Friday night they would be boycotting MOTD in solidarity with Lineker.

Pundit Glenn Murray pulled out of appearing on Football Focus and Final Score on Saturday while fellow former players Dion Dublin and Leon Osman were among those announcing their absence from coverage.

Mohammad also confirmed he would not be hosting Final Score, tweeting: “As you know, Final Score is a TV show very close to my heart.

“However – I have this morning informed the BBC that I will not be presenting the show this afternoon on BBC One.”

On Friday evening, several Match Of The Day commentators shared a joint statement online, announcing they would be stepping down from Saturday’s broadcast.

The commentators, including Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Cowen and Steven Wyeth, said they did “not feel it would be appropriate to take part in the programme” given the current circumstances.

Commentator Ian Dennis, a BBC employee, did cover Leeds against Brighton for 5 Live radio but said it was a difficult day.

“It’s also a very difficult time for BBC Sport and for those who work in the department. We all hope that that gets resolved,” he said at the start of the broadcast.

“Personally, today I found it very difficult. But I’m a BBC staff member, I’m a radio commentator for BBC 5 Live – and today, like every Saturday afternoon, we provide a service to you, the audience.”

Lineker was taken off air for a tweet which compared the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany.

The broadcaster said it had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights programme until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.

Gary Lineker, right, was at Leicester's home match against Chelsea on Saturday
Gary Lineker, right, was at Leicester’s home match against Chelsea on Saturday (Mike Egerton/PA)

Former BBC director-general Greg Dyke said the corporation had made a “mistake” and “undermined its own credibility” by taking Lineker off air.

A spokesman for the Professional Footballers’ Association said in a statement on Twitter that they had “been informed that players involved in Saturday’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with Match Of The Day”.

It continued: “We made clear that, as their union, we would support all members who might face consequences for choosing not to complete their broadcast commitments.

“This is a common sense decision that ensures players won’t now be put in that position.”