BBC says talks with Gary Lineker ‘moving in the right direction’
Talks between the BBC and Gary Lineker are “moving in the right direction” after the broadcaster’s sports coverage suffered disruption throughout the weekend, the corporation has reported.
There are “hopes of a resolution soon, but not all issues are ‘fully resolved’ at this stage”, BBC News said.
Football coverage on BBC TV and radio shows was hit across the weekend as pundits walked out in “solidarity” with Lineker after the former England captain was told to stand down from presenting Match of the Day when he compared language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany.
Match of the Day aired for only 20 minutes on Saturday without accompanying commentary or analysis from presenters, and Sunday’s edition of Match of the Day 2 ran for a reduced 15 minutes in similar style.
Commentator Guy Mowbray wrote on Twitter: “As yesterday, there will be no ‘normal’ MOTD(2) programme tonight. The scheduled commentary team are in full agreement with our BBC Sport colleagues. We hope that a resolution can be found ASAP.”
Coverage of the Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Manchester United also aired without a pre-match presentation, and with world feed commentary used instead of regular BBC voices – a 30-minute Women’s Football Show then later showed highlights of the day’s WSL action with commentary, but otherwise had the same format as the Match of the Day programmes.
Radio 5 Live’s coverage was radically altered throughout the day on Saturday and there was a change to its Sunday schedules too, with its usual ‘Premier League Sunday’ show from midday to 2pm replaced by episodes of Sport’s Strangest Crimes.
The afternoon’s Premier League commentaries from 2pm went ahead and, prior to coverage of Fulham against Arsenal, commentator Alistair Bruce-Ball acknowledged the “difficult time” BBC Sport was undergoing.
“I want to reiterate what we said ahead of our football coverage yesterday,” he said.
“I know you’ll all appreciate this is a difficult time for BBC Sport and for all those who work in the department and we hope it all gets resolved as soon as possible.
“It’s been a very difficult decision to make personally, I can assure you it’s not been taken lightly, but I’m a BBC staff member, I’m a radio commentator for this station and just like yesterday we are here to provide our football service to you, our audience.”
Those comments were echoed by the BBC’s football correspondent John Murray, who commentated on the clash between Newcastle and Wolves alongside Pat Nevin.
Former Chelsea and Scotland winger Nevin said he had only agreed to work as scheduled if he could have his say publicly on the situation.
“I’m a pundit but I’m also a journalist, an author, I’m my own person, and freedom of speech means you get to speak,” Nevin said.
“There’s a dichotomy between free speech for us and due impartiality for the BBC, we know that, it’s where you draw the line. That line has been far too blurred for the staff and the public. Contracts must be clearer. It’s unfair on everyone from Gary Lineker to every match reporter.
“There must be debate and there must be consultation, not just edicts from on high. I happen to stand roughly on the same sort of hill as Gary Lineker but we have to understand, if we have stringent opinions, then other alternative and indeed opposite opinions would have to be allowed.
Tim Davie is isolated in some ways. He needs to come home and grip this now. We need him back running the ship
“That is not easy for an impartial organisation like the BBC to cope with. The future and direction of this possibly-under-threat institution could depend on this.”
Lineker told reporters that he “can’t say anything” as they questioned him on the future of his presenting career when he left his home in Barnes, south-west London, to walk his dog on Sunday morning.
Among the questions he was asked was whether he had spoken to BBC director general Tim Davie overnight, but he provided no response.
Davie, who has been in the United States, has apologised for the disruption but said he will not resign.
Former BBC executive Peter Salmon, who was previously controller of BBC One and director of sport, told Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg the situation was “complex” and Lineker was a “major figure”.
Reflecting on the disruption to the BBC’s sports schedule, he added: “It’s a mess, isn’t it?
“They must be wishing they could reel back 72 hours and start all over again. It’s Oscars day but there’s no awards for how this has been managed.
“I think they’ve got to take action pretty quickly. It doesn’t help the chairman of the BBC himself is slacked to one side in this process and there’s a bit of an issue.
“Tim Davie is isolated in some ways, he needs to come home and grip this now. We need him back running the ship.”
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