Gary Lineker’s Twitter Controversy Explained

Whether you are a football fan or not, and whether you follow the news or couldn’t care less, it would have been pretty hard to escape crisp-flogging former England striker Gary Lineker over the last few weeks. However, we have no doubt that there are a lucky few who have managed to get through life without really knowing what the story is all about. If that’s you, and you’ve decided that now is the time to find out what went on, read on.

Without delving too much into the political side of things, or at the very least reporting them with a level of impartiality the BBC would be proud of, here in a nutshell (or perhaps a crisp packet) is what the Gary Lineker Twitter/BBC controversy is all about.

How did the controversy start?

Like so many controversies, spats and news stories, sadly enough, it all began with a Tweet. Gary Lineker initially Tweeted that the government’s policy concerning asylum seekers was “beyond awful”. This in itself shouldn’t have been hugely controversial and whilst many may have supported the government’s proposed plans, many didn’t. A group of almost 400 businesses, charities, legal groups and unions condemned it and the Archbishop of York called it “cruelty without purpose”.

The former Leicester, Everton and Spurs striker’s message attracted criticism though, with some claiming he was “out of order”. His full Tweeted response was:

There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. 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, and I’m out of order?

It appears to be this follow-up Tweet which especially angered people, especially the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, with its reference to Nazi Germany. Talking about the Holocaust, Braverman said that to “throw out those kind of flippant analogies diminishes the unspeakable tragedy that millions of people went through”.

What happened next?

Without overanalysing government policy or what Lineker Tweeted and what he really meant by that, let’s move straight to what happened next. The former player’s first Tweet was on 7th March 2023 and on 10th March he said that he would be standing down from presenting that weekend’s Match of the Day.

That programme was on Saturday 11th March and when pushed Lineker made it clear that he was not stepping back, as was originally reported but had, effectively, been suspended. Ian Wright was the first of Lineker’s colleagues to act, stating (Tweeted, of course) that whilst “Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but … I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity.”

Perhaps the BBC underestimated how well-liked Lineker was or overestimated how much former Premier League stars needed their money, but Alan Shearer soon followed Wright. Many other pundits, possible presenters and even commentators rapidly announced that they too would be, essentially, striking in support of Lineker. This then spread to other BBC sports programmes, with Match of the Day 2 staff, those of Football Focus and others all backing Lineker.

Some programmes were replaced (goodbye Football Focus, hello Bargain Hunt!) whilst Match of the Day itself aired without hosts or commentary. The programme was reduced to around 20 minutes and just featured highlights from each game with no introduction, no analysis and no commentary at all! Which was all just a little surreal. Interestingly, it actually attracted more viewers than it usually does!

Why did this happen?

BBC Logo

The BBC is funded by the taxpayer, thanks to the TV license. Unlike other TV organisations, it is not independent and free to say whatever it likes but instead has a commitment to impartiality. If there was a news story, for example, about asylum and refugee policy, it would report the facts only but not pass any judgement on whether the proposed plans were good, bad, fair, unfair, cruel, essential, or anything else.

We would say that on the whole the BBC does a decent job of maintaining this impartiality. The reason we believe this is that left-wing politicians and members of the public think it is wildly bias in favour of the right… and those on the right believe it is an entirely leftist, liberal institution with clear bias the other way.

Traditionally it has been assumed that rules about impartiality apply chiefly to editorial decisions, which is to say what news is shown and how it is presented. However, in the modern era where BBC staff have a voice that extends well beyond their output on the news, the rules have had to change. Sadly, these rules and guidelines have failed to keep up with the rapidly changing world of social media and technology.

There are several grey areas involved in all of this. Do impartiality rules apply to all members of the BBC at all times? Do they only apply to news programmes and those that work on them? Are they only relevant to those directly employed by the BBC (Lineker is a freelancer)? Is social media output that is clearly personal covered by these guidelines?

Is the Lineker Controversy Over?

On 13th March the BBC and Lineker jointly announced that Match of the Day would resume as normal the following weekend. The host’s suspension, such as it was, was ended and the BBC would undertake a thorough and independent review of its social media guidelines. In the meantime, the former England captain would adhere more closely to the current rules.

So that’s that then? Well, for now, we can look forward to seeing Match of the Day and Football Focus as usual. What happens when the review is published and quite how closely Lineker will stick to the current rules (which everyone agrees are far too vague anyway), remains to be seen!