Gary Lineker will be back hosting Match of the Day this weekend with no further punishment after BBC bosses backed down over his anti-Tory tweets – with the star even receiving an indirect apology from the under-fire Director General.
In an extraordinary capitulation, Tim Davie has moved to secure a deal with the footballer turned broadcaster, 62, so he can present FA Cup coverage this weekend, blaming ‘confusion’ and ‘grey areas’ in the BBC’s social media guidance.
MailOnline understands that those who walked out in support of Lineker, including Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and Mark Chapman, will face no action from BBC bosses.
Mr Lineker said today: ‘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. I am immeasurably proud to work with the best and fairest broadcaster in the world. I cannot wait to get back in the MOTD chair on Saturday’.
It marks a huge victory for the former England captain, the BBC’s highest-paid star on £1.35million a year, over the £5.3billion-a-year budget BBC in the crisis sparked by his tweets likening the Government’s crackdown on migrants in small boats to Nazi Germany.
Mr Lineker was defiant in the face of criticism, tweeting this morning: ‘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. We remain a country of predominantly tolerant, welcoming and generous people. Thank you’.
Mr Davie, who is facing calls to resign over the debacle, has apologised to BBC staff and presenters, which includes Mr Lineker, and BBC viewers and listeners, whose sporting coverage was decimated this weekend.
But there was no direct apology to Lineker for taking him off air on Friday, although Mr Davie said Lineker ‘will abide by the editorial guidelines’ until a review of the BBC’s social media policy – described by insiders as a ‘horrible fudge’ – is complete.
Lineker 1 – BBC 0: Gary, pictured walking his dog in south-west London yesterday, will be back on the TV this weekend after BBC bosses backed down
BBC director-general Tim Davie, pictured today, has denied he will resign over the row and denied the corporation’s handling of the row had been catastrophic
He said: ‘Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this. The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air’.
The row saw Match of the Day and Match of the Day 2 cut down to short shows without presenters, pundits, commentators or its famous theme tune. On-screen talent including former England strikers Alan Shearer and Ian Wright refused to appear in ‘solidarity’ with Lineker.
There was even a pro-Lineker protest outside the BBC in Salford and rumours that the Premier League is so furious about the scandal it could favour ITV during the next round of contract negotiations.
Thanking his supporters, Mr Lineker said: ‘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.
‘I have been presenting sport on the BBC for almost 3 decades and am immeasurably proud to work with the best and fairest broadcaster in the world. I cannot wait to get back in the MOTD chair on Saturday’.
In order to end the row, the BBC is expected to be forced into launching a review of its guidelines on impartiality for freelance presenters such as Lineker, 62.
BBC director-general Tim Davie has apologised after the disruption to its football coverage and said he looks forward to Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker returning to presenting duties this weekend.
He also announced an independent review of social media guidelines at the corporation, particularly for freelancers.
In a statement, Mr Davie said: ‘Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this. The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air.
‘Impartiality is important to the BBC. It is also important to the public. The BBC has a commitment to impartiality in its Charter and a commitment to freedom of expression. That is a difficult balancing act to get right where people are subject to different contracts and on air positions, and with different audience and social media profiles. The BBC’s social media guidance is designed to help manage these sometimes difficult challenges and I am aware there is a need to ensure that the guidance is up to this task. It should be clear, proportionate, and appropriate.
‘Accordingly, we are announcing a review led by an independent expert – reporting to the BBC – on its existing social media guidance, with a particular focus on how it applies to freelancers outside news and current affairs. The BBC and myself are aware that Gary is in favour of such a review.
‘Shortly, the BBC will announce who will conduct that review. Whilst this work is undertaken, the BBC’s current social media guidance remains in place.
‘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.’
Until today, Lineker had refused to be drawn on his future as he walked his dog in south-west London yesterday. But last night Sky News reported sources close to Lineker saying they are ‘increasingly confident’ the dispute will be resolved ‘to his satisfaction’ within the next 24 hours.
In the BBC statement he said: ‘I am glad that we have found a way forward. I support this review and look forward to getting back on air.’
A number of meetings will be held with BBC staff today, in the wake of the statement. Davie separately sent an email to staff in which he repeated his apology.
Protestors gather outside the BBC’s main sports studio in Salford to show support for Gary Lineker
Match of the Day on Saturday was cut to just 20 minutes in length as presenters, staff and commentators refused to come to work in support for Lineker
Lineker was spotted in public for the first time yesterday after Match of the Day aired without him the previous night
‘Ambiguities’ in the presenter’s contract meant the corporation cannot force him to follow its rules, which prohibit staff members from making political comments. Lawyers are said to have advised the BBC could not sack him without a multi-million pound pay-off.
Tim Davie’s own future could be in doubt after he has been criticised for his handling of the affair. Rishi Sunak would not be drawn on whether he retains confidence in him or BBC chairman Richard Sharp.
The BBC will broadcast two of the four FA Cup fixtures this weekend, including the much-anticipated tie between Premier League side Brighton and giant-killing minnows Grimsby Town, but disruption to its football coverage since Friday has thrown this into doubt.
Lineker, 62, was taken off air by bosses at the organisation on Friday after he criticised the Government’s anti-illegal immigration bill, sparking a walkout by colleagues.
Lineker is said to be on a 24-month contract negotiated prior to Davie’s arrival.
And despite Davie repeatedly emphasising the importance of impartiality, Lineker’s contract was not updated.
Meanwhile, presenters, pundits and commentators have refused to appear in an act of solidarity, with Match of the Day 2 last night airing without a presenter and lasting only 14 minutes. An apology was made to viewers prior to the show.
A continuity announcer said: ‘Now on BBC One, sorry we’re not able to show our normal Match Of The Day 2 including commentary tonight, but here’s the best action from today’s Premier League matches.’