Gary Lineker was today begged to return to hosting Match of the Day with no further punishment – or bars on his tweeting – after BBC bosses backed down over his anti-Tory posts and even offered him an apology for the fiasco.
In an extraordinary capitulation just 72 hours after taking him off air, Director General Tim Davie said sorry and asked the footballer turned broadcaster, 62, to present FA Cup coverage this weekend.
MailOnline understands that those who walked out in support of the MotD host, including Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and Mark Chapman, will also face no action from BBC bosses, with Lineker thanking them for their ‘remarkable show of solidarity’.
Today 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 1930s Nazi Germany.
Mr Lineker said he ‘cannot wait’ to be back on the BBC this weekend but was defiant in the face of criticism, suggesting some of his critics were intolerant.
He tweeted: ‘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 insisted he did ‘the right thing’ in asking Lineker to ‘step aside’ but admitted he had taken stock over the weekend and invited the star to return to work, blaming ‘confusion’ and ‘grey areas’ in the BBC’s social media guidance, which will now be reviewed.
Lineker 1 – BBC 0: Gary, pictured walking his dog in south-west London today, will be back on the TV this weekend after BBC bosses backed down
Gary Lineker announces his return to Match of the Day in a defiant series of tweets
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
But insiders have said that ‘ambiguities’ in the presenter’s contract mean 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 that they could not sack him without a multi-million pound pay-off.
As he left home in Barnes this morning to walk his dog, Gary Linaker declined to comment, telling reporters: ‘I’ve already said what I’m going to say on Twitter’.
The row over his tweets 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.
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’.
Mr Davie, the under-fire BBC Director General, was forced into a U-turn and even offered the star an indirect apology, declaring: ‘Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary’.
Mr Davie told the BBC he did ‘the right thing’ in asking Lineker to step back from presenting duties, calling it ‘proportionate’, but said he ‘respects the views’ of the presenters and pundits who walked out with the former England striker.
In response, Mr Lineker said: ‘I’d like to thank Tim Davie for his understanding during this difficult period. He has an almost impossible job keeping everybody happy, particularly in the area of impartiality. I am delighted that we’ll continue to fight the good fight, together’.
Tory MP Philip Davies told MailOnline: ‘This pathetic capitulation by the BBC is the start of the end for the licence fee.
‘The BBC can no longer credibly claim that it believes in political impartiality and – more importantly – it has proved that it doesn’t have the stomach to enforce it.
‘It is now a free for all at the BBC as they cannot have their highest paid and best known presenter saying what he likes and firing other people who work there for similar breaches.
‘This is a terrible day for the BBC, but a very good day for those who want to see the back of the licence fee.
‘Gary Lineker has done more for that campaign than anyone and I thank him for that.
‘His epitaph will read ‘Gary Lineker – the man who destroyed the BBC licence fee’ – I am not sure that was intention but he is so wrapped up in his self-important left-wing virtue signalling that he no doubt cannot see it. This is a watershed moment. It is now inevitable that the licence fee will end – and it will end sooner than would otherwise have been the case because of Gary Lineker and his left-wing friends at the BBC. And for that we can rejoice.’
Conservative MP for Ipswich, Tom Hunt, said: ‘BBC should not hide behind these ‘freelancer contracts’ as a way of its well known presenters avoiding impartiality rules. If they’re paid millions by the taxpayer and widely perceived to be BBC presenters clearly that should come with duties re impartiality’.
Lineker today (pictured) thanked his supporters, especially those at the BBC who walked out in solidarity
Protestors gather outside the BBC’s main sports studio in Salford to show support for Gary Lineker
The Director General, 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.
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’.
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.
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’.
Speaking to BBC News later said he did the ‘right thing’ after the corporation asked Gary Lineker to step away from Match Of The Day.
Davie told BBC News: ‘I’ve always said we need to take proportionate action, and for some people…we’ve taken too severe action, others think we’re being too lenient.
‘There’s never been an easy solution but asking Gary to step back off air, I think, was a significant thing and now we look forward with this agreement, moving forward to resolve things and get back to business as usual.’
On whether he had reached an agreement on social media with Lineker after the presenter was announced to be coming back on air, Davie said the presenter will ‘abide by the editorial guidelines’ until a review has taken place.
He added: ‘I think it was a very big moment in terms of us saying we have to take stock here, we have to take action, we did take action which we thought was proportionate and as the BBC we did the right thing, I did the right thing.’
Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker leaves his home in London, the former footballer, will continue as a BBC presenter after the corporation apologised for a ‘difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters, and most importantly, our audiences’
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.
Davie has said he ‘respects the views’ of staff at BBC Sport after presenters, pundits and commentators refused to appear on air during the weekend after Gary Lineker was told to step back from Match Of The Day.
The director-general of the corporation was asked if he was out of touch after reduced sports programming was shown instead, and he told BBC News: ‘(Sports presenters) were obviously put in a very difficult situation.
‘I think people across the BBC… are all very passionate about our standing as an impartial broadcaster, so important in this world, and this affair tells you how polarised debate has become.
‘I want to fight for a BBC where we can have proper calm debate (and) facilitate free speech.’
When asked about Conservative Party pressure on the BBC, Davie said it is ‘not how we work’ at the corporation and the impartiality guidelines are ‘equally applied’ to those who express left and right-wing views.
He added: ‘The audience numbers in terms of trust in the BBC… is in good order.’
In order to end the row, the BBC is 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.
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
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.
The BBC Board said in a statement: ‘The Board welcomes the fact that the executive has reached an agreement following the disruption of the weekend.
‘Impartiality is a cornerstone of the BBC. We believe this is the right time to look at the clarity of the BBC’s social media guidance and how it is applied.
‘We will support the executive in its continuing work to ensure the organisation delivers world-class, impartial content for all audiences.’