BBC crisis escalates as players and stars rally behind soccer host Gary Lineker

From National Public Radio:

The BBC was forced to scrap much of its weekend sports programming as the network scrambled to stem an escalating crisis over its suspension of soccer host Gary Lineker for comments criticizing the British government’s new asylum policy.

As a growing number of English Premier League players and BBC presenters rallied to Lineker’s support and refused to appear on the airwaves on Saturday, Britain’s national broadcaster faced allegations of political bias and suppressing free speech, as well as praise from some Conservative politicians.

The broadcaster said it would air only “limited sport programming” this weekend after hosts of many of its popular sports shows declined to appear, in solidarity with Lineker. The former England captain was suspended from “Match of the Day,” a popular soccer highlights show, over a Twitter post that compared lawmakers’ language about migrants to that used in Nazi Germany.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made his first comments on the storm, saying: “Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a talented presenter. I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly a matter for them, not the government.”

Instead of blanket coverage on Saturday of the most popular league in the world, the BBC had no preview shows on radio or TV and no early evening summary of the final scores of Premier League games. Lunchtime TV program “Football Focus” was replaced with a rerun episode of antiques show “Bargain Hunt,” while early evening “Final Score” was swapped for “The Repair Shop.”

Soccer fans tuning in for “Match of the Day” — the late-night program that has been a British institution for 60 years — will be getting a 20-minute show instead of one typically lasting around an hour and a half. There will be no commentary on the matches and no studio punditry from some of the most high-profile stars in the British game who have chosen to support Lineker and not work.

There will not be any post-match player interviews, either. The Professional Footballers’ Association said some players wanted to boycott the show, and as a result “players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with ‘Match of The Day.'”

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

Americans may play on soccer teams in the US and elsewhere, but a great many of us don’t really understand the intense popularity of The Beautiful Game elsewhere.

That said, PG has always viewed the powers that be that control the BBC to be more than a little poncey from time to time. Perhaps it’s because BBC programs in the US run primarily on educational channels, usually non-profits, and more often than not associated with a local college or university.

Plus, there’s no US analog to the British television license fee that Brits must pay to watch or record television on any channel. This means that the stations that carry BBC programs in the US tend to interrupt them with breaks to ask for money “to support good programming such as the show you’ve just been watching for ten minutes since our last pledge break,” sounding more than a little like poncey beggers as well.

Of course, in more than a few US universities, the annual salaries paid to the football coach and the basketball coach would fund the university’s public television activities for several years.

12 thoughts on “BBC crisis escalates as players and stars rally behind soccer host Gary Lineker”

  1. There are at least three better options to watch BBC content than sitting though the begathons.

    1- As of feb 2021 You can sign up to BBC SELECT streaming service. 1 week free trial, $4.99 a month afterwards.
    2- Older series and movies are mostly exclusive to Amazon Prime or (for now) to HBOMAX. Their most popular (until recently) export DR WHO is slated to move to Disney+ soon.
    3- Britbox streams some (most?) current BBC and ITC, etc british shows for $8 a month. They have a lot of AGATHA CHRISTIE stuff.

    These days, PBS only gets a few shows they co-finance. And given their perpetual cash shortage those days may not be much longer.

      • I only know because my sister tried Britbox out this week.
        I had heard the name but I wasn’t interested in finding out more. Hulu, Prime, and Netflix have enough british (and Canadian) stuff for a long time.

        (I dropped cable ages ago, except for broadband. A cheap antenna and the various services do me fine. Not only is the new stuff good, there’s tons of older material that is as good or better and binging is way better than “appointment TV”. And cheaper. No contract so you can churn at will.)

  2. The current leadership at the BBC is forgetting that “no political content by presenters” is very much a new thing. One of its propaganda broadcasters, on the India/Burma radio service, was a former policeman there, a Mr Eric Blair. This guy. And nobody at the BBC raised an eyebrow at any of his wartime essays attacking the Colonel Blimps of the Home Guard, and the BBC recently raised a bloody statue to him — despite Animal Farm, widely understood as a direct attack on both an ally and on British policy regarding that ally.

    Mr Davie, there’s a Mr O’Brien to see you…

    • That was nearly eighty years ago and things have changed a lot since then, plus George Orwell was a serious student of autocracy not an ex footballer who is too foolish to be able to tell the difference between stopping the illegal entry of economic migrants and acts of genocide.

      And was Russia really an ally or just an enemy of our enemies? After all they started the war as Hitler’s buddies joining his attack on Poland and continued to provide Germany with supplies until Stalin was rudely awakened to the fact that he’d been taken for a fool. August 1945 may have been a bit too soon to admit that the main difference between Hitler and Stalin was that Hitler was closer, but Mr. Blair was just a bit ahead of the curve.

      The whole current kerfuffle is just silly; the best outcome would be for the BBC to finally accept that it hasn’t got the money to do serious football reporting and to leave it the the streaming services. It would then have more money to spend on other programming, especially as it would no longer be paying grossly over the top fees to football pundits. I suspect that most viewers would not care (as anyone who is serious about football subscribes to Sky).

      • In the US the sports consortia (aka “Leagues”) are starting to take control of their broadcast operations, cutting out middlemen and increasing their take along the way.

        Because of streaming, the number of subscribers to cable have been declining for a decade now and the entire “Regional Sports Network” model of cable driven sports broadcast is collapsing. The holders of local broadcast rights for 17 of the 30 pro baseball franchises just declared bankruptcy and MLB, INC is insisting on full payment or rights reversion.
        As the first sport to setup its own streaming operation for direct to consumer, they already have the infrastructure to either sell their local games direct to cable operators and/or go direct to consumer-only replacing the RSNs as streaming is now more prevalent than cable.

        IIRC, a while back Manchester United was planning to break away from their consortium to sell their games separately. It may have been a negotiating tactic, dunno. But it is a matter of time when all sports and franchises sell their games individually or in groups disintermediating both over the air and cable distributors. All they need is to get their *free* app on the major streaming devices, gaming consoles, and Smart TVs.

        Much like books, the only essential players are the content creators and consumers.

      • I must disagree.

        I used Orwell as a particularly prominent and particularly ironic example (in 1984, the architecture of the Ministry of Truth was that of the BBC’s headquarters — both recognizably and, in Orwell’s letters, explicitly). The BBC is now, and always has been, of… a certain nature. Consider that just a year ago it didn’t crack down on the entire slate of sport and entertainment “personalities” when they used their social media accounts to express disgust for the invasion of Ukraine; but that was consistent with the Government’s position. Similarly, the BBC didn’t crack down on social media accounts of its stars/presenters/panelists on The Apprentice when they, umm, supported “public schoolboy” initiatives. Conversely, the BBC’s coverage of another sport figure — Marcus Rashford, MBE — umm, lagged much of the rest of UK media when Rashford faced down the Johnson government over school lunches. And won.

        It appears that marginally-educated footballers have a better grasp on humanity than the “public”-school-educated-mandately-neutral powers-that-be at the purported flagship of all broadcasting. It’s a sad day when Voice of America is the less propagandistic-by-omission…

        Given that there was a formal alliance between the UK and Soviet Union, memorialized in multiple treaties, the realpolitik motivation for the alliance was rather less than relevant to the corresponding acts of the BBC regarding Animal Farm.

        The fundamental problem — and this is one that has played out in publishing, with no satisfactory outcome — is the question of “Just how much control may an employer/broadcaster/publisher assert over what an employee/author/media personality says in nonofficial contexts?” The recent Rowling issues are quite relevant;† so, too, have been questions of Nazi S&M parties and car racing, etc. This matters to authors because of the attempts by commercial publishers — and, at times, purportedly “neutral” vendors — to impose “conduct codes” in publishing and even distribution agreements.

        I don’t pretend to have a good answer. I can, however, state rather definitively that the BBC has chosen a bad one regarding Lineker. I propose a six-match suspension for the BBC’s Chair and Executive Director for bringing the Game into disrepute; I leave defining “the Game” up to the home audience.

        † I’m not taking a position; I’m merely pointing out that the mechanisms were startlingly similar, aside from the government involvement.

        • You frequently write sufficiently obliquely that I am often left unsure as to exactly what you are implying/hinting/insinuating, but if it is that the BBC governors have a long term history of supporting the UK’s Government’s positions, then I don’t think it is true. Sometimes they do, sometimes they infuriate the ruling politicians, sometimes as in your Ukrainian example – they just go with the flow of public opinion (and it’s not as if the official opposition were not in the anti-Putin camp) – and sometimes, as in your Orwell example, they may conflict with official foreign policy (though the BBC may have thought “talking animals, must be a children’s book”?). It’s fun to observe that Orwell based the architecture of the Ministry of Truth on Broadcasting House but I’m not sure of its relevance to today’s social media postings (though if you can throw in something from Keep the Aspidistra Flying you’ll have covered all of Orwell’s fiction that I’ve read).

          It’s not my intention to defend the BBC’s management – I really don’t care much either way – and suspect that they mostly want to keep their heads down and avoid decisions, but will often make fools of themselves if they are caught in a controversial spotlight. I doubt that they have any idea how to cope with the world of social media as they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Tomorrow, the same people who are today attacking them for objecting to some posting will be attacking them for not objecting to another, and they will sway with the twitter mob.

          I freely admit that I disapprove of Lineker’s use of Nazi, though my reasons may not be those of the BBC. Certain words, Nazi and genocide in particular, still have strong connotations of moral opprobrium and I think we should try to preserve this. However, controversialist are eager to exploit these moral connotations by applying the words where they are not appropriate and if this is not subject to strong objections will drain the words of both meaning and ethical significance, pretty much as has happened to fascism, where in the USA in now seems to mean little more than “you’re a Republican and I don’t approve of you”#

          # I actually do disapprove of a good number of GOP politicians, from Trump downwards, but far from thinking them fascists assume that their name calling accusers are ignorant of the views of Mussolini’s party.

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