March 11 (UPI) — The British Broadcasting Corporation was forced to pull some of its most popular soccer programming off the air Saturday amid a boycott over a move to suspend host Gary Lineker from his duties.
The BBC announced Friday that Lineker, a former England soccer star and lead Match of the Day broadcasting voice, would “step back from presenting” until the two parties could reach on agreement on his use of social media.
The broadcaster earlier this week asserted Lineker broke its impartiality rules by posting a since-deleted tweet in which he compared language used by British Home Secretary Suella Braverman in detailing her plans to remove illegal migrants arriving in small boats to “that used by Germany in the ’30s.”
The post had drawn fierce criticism from Conservative Party government ministers, members of Parliament and commentators who called Lineker’s references to Nazi-era Germany “disgusting and vile” and demanded his removal from his post on the BBC’s flagship soccer show.
The crisis escalated on Friday when his subsequent suspension prompted other Match Of The Day commentators, including fellow presenters Ian Wright and Alan Shearer, to announce they would boycott their own broadcasting duties for Saturday’s Premier League coverage.
As a result, the soccer shows Football Focus and Final Score were pulled from the BBC’s schedule while Match of the Day aired without presenters as a meltdown over the suspension spread.
“The BBC will only be able to bring limited sport programming this weekend and our schedules will be updated to reflect that,” the broadcaster said in a statement issued to The Guardian. “We are sorry for these changes which we recognize will be disappointing for BBC sport fans.
“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”
Critics of the suspension said the broadcaster had caved in to political pressure with the decision and damaged its reputation for impartiality.
Liberal Democrat Party leader Ed Davey called on BBC chairman Richard Sharp to resign over the incident.
“The [Match of the Day] saga has shown failure at the top of the BBC and the need to urgently protect its independence,” he tweeted. “We need leadership that can uphold British values and withstand Conservative attacks. Under Richard Sharp’s leadership this hasn’t been the case. He must resign.”