Gary Lineker to return to Match of the Day as BBC bosses back down


The BBC will climb down in its row with Gary Lineker and allow him to return as Match of the Day host next weekend, The Telegraph understands.

The corporation is expected to announce that it is reviewing its guidelines on the use of social media in the wake of the controversy.

In return, it is believed that Lineker will agree to be more careful about the content of his tweets. He may also make some form of apology.

An announcement that the matter has been resolved is expected to be made as early as Monday, with the BBC conceding that its guidance on social media restrictions was unclear.

Lineker is expected to return to our screens for Saturday’s Match of the Day Live: FA Cup coverage. He was never due to host the Match of the Day highlights programme because of his commitment to covering the cup.

Tim Davie, the director-general, will now face criticism over the BBC’s commitment to impartiality and whether it can justify being funded by the licence fee. David Jones, a former Cabinet minister, said: “Davie knows Lineker behaved badly. He simply hasn’t the authority to deal with him robustly.”

On Sunday night, both sides were said to be “close to a resolution”.

An insider said: “Both sides have been working on something that will satisfy the BBC’s concerns and allow Gary back on air. Things are going in the right direction.”

The decision to review the social media guidelines is particularly embarrassing for Mr Davie because they were written in 2020 at his request to include what came to be known as the “Lineker Clause”. It stated that presenters with a particularly high profile had an additional responsibility to avoid taking sides on party political issues.

A review is expected to look again at whether sports and entertainment presenters should be held to the same standards as journalists working in BBC News.

The row broke out last week when Lineker, the BBC’s highest-paid star, tweeted in response to Suella Braverman’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel.

“This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s,” he said.

Initially, the BBC took a firm approach, saying that Lineker had clearly breached the guidelines and would be removed from Match of the Day until further notice.

However, the corporation is being forced to row back after its sports coverage collapsed over the weekend, with presenters and commentators refusing to go on air in solidarity with Lineker.

The scale of the mutiny took BBC management by surprise and left licence fee payers without their regular coverage.

Match of the Day went ahead with no presenter, pundits, commentary or theme tune and lasted just 20 minutes, although viewing figures were up nearly half a million on the previous week as people tuned in out of curiosity.

Radio 5 Live’s weekend programming was decimated and Sunday night’s Match of the Day 2 show was also expected to be a meagre highlights package with no presenter.

Bosses were left with no choice but to give ground if they were to avoid the unofficial strike running into a second week. BBC Sport is to hold staff sessions on Monday to address concerns.

Polling over the weekend showed that the majority of the public sided with Lineker, while the Prime Minister urged that the issue be resolved “in a timely fashion”.

Mr Davie spent the weekend in what sources described as “intensive negotiations”, flying back from Washington DC to strike a deal with Lineker and his representatives.

It was notable that Lineker, a prolific tweeter, stayed silent on social media over the weekend.

He spent Sunday having lunch with his sons and walking his dog. Asked outside his home if he had “come to an agreement with the BBC”, he replied: “I can’t say anything at the moment, I’m sorry.”

One son, George, told reporters: “He loves Match of the Day. But he won’t ever back down on his word.”

However, Andrew Castle, the sports presenter, told LBC listeners that Lineker had privately conceded that his language was over the top.

“I said to him that I thought to draw parallels between the rise of Nazism in the 30s, and the immigration policy of a serving Conservative Party was a step too far, and he agreed,” Castle said.

Tory MPs raised concerns that any resolution could call into question the BBC’s impartiality.

Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, said: “It is clear Gary Lineker breached impartiality rules. If he does come back we need to have confidence that he won’t do this again.

“His comments were not only grossly offensive, wrong-headed and unwise, he has shown a complete lack of repentance and contrition. He thinks he can act with impunity.

“We need an apology from him about the comments he made and then we need to have details about what is being put in place to stop this happening in future.

“If those two things aren’t both addressed, I’ve got concerns about BBC impartiality and what this means for the broadcaster.”

Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet, said: “Gary Lineker now needs to stop and desist what he’s doing. I think the relationship the BBC now has with some of its senior contributors and panellists is pretty unhealthy, really.”

Mr Jones, the MP for Clwyd West and a former Cabinet minister, said: “This says more about the weakness of the director-general. If he reinstates Lineker without an enforceable undertaking not to engage in political tweeting again, he’ll have let all licence fee payers down.”