Ian Wright pulls out of Match of the Day in ‘solidarity’ with Gary Lineker as BBC decision sparks backlash
atch of the Day pundit Ian Wright has said he will not be appearing on the show on Saturday in “solidarity” with Gary Lineker.
It comes after the BBC announced Lineker will “step back” from presenting the flagship BBC sports show after his comments on Twitter about the Government’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats.
The presenter 62, has been embroiled in a row over impartiality after comparing the language used to launch the new asylum policy with 1930s Germany.
After the announcement, former Arsenal striker Wright tweeted: “Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity.”
The announcement has sparked widespread reaction online with many supporting Lineker.
It is not yet clear who will stand in for the presenter during Saturday’s edition of Match Of The Day.
BBC Breakfast and Football Focus presenter Dan Walker tweeted: “I used to sit in for @GaryLineker on MOTD… not sure I’d fancy it this weekend. What a mess!”
Ex-BBC correspondent Jon Sopel drew a comparison with the corporation’s chairman Sharp, tweeting: “Lucky there are no producer guidelines on whether you need to declare facilitating an £800k loan to a prime minister while applying for a job as chairman of a broadcasting organisation…”
Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville, who commentates for Sky Sports, tweeted in response to a news story regarding Lineker: “When you take on the Tories and the system! Awful people who we need gone. Off for a (wine glass emoji).”
Retired England goalkeeper Ben Foster also wrote a message of support under Ian Wright’s tweet, replying: “Heck yes Wrighty.”Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling replied to Ian Wright’s message of “solidarity” with Gary Lineker, tweeting: “Well played Wrighty.”
Former BBC Newsnight host Emily Maitlis, who was herself reprimanded by the BBC for sharing a tweet the corporation viewed as “controversial”, said her former employer could face a “much, much bigger battle” after its Gary Lineker decision.
“I’m not sure when they suggested to Gary Lineker he step back from (Match Of The Day) the BBC realised it might be starting a much much bigger battle,” she tweeted.
“Ian Wright refusing to present on Saturday. In the name of solidarity.”
Alastair Campbell branded the BBC’s decision “an act of political cowardice” that threatens democracy.
The former journalist and Labour spin doctor described the move to announce Lineker was stepping back from Match Of The Day as “pathetic” and “craven” during an appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live.
Asked about his stance on the matter, he said: “I’ll be even more outspoken now because this is, I’m afraid, an act of complete political cowardice. If it was wrong in principle then they should have sacked him the other day.”
Labour has condemned the BBC’s “cowardly decision” to stand Gary Lineker down from hosting duties on Match Of The Day.
A party source said: “The BBC’s cowardly decision to take Gary Lineker off air is an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure.
“Tory politicians lobbying to get people sacked for disagreeing with Government policies should be laughed at, not pandered to. The BBC should rethink their decision.”
However Conservative former culture secretary Sir John Whittingdale said the decision from the BBC was “inevitable”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “I think it was inevitable. The problem is that Gary Lineker has made it clear that he wants to go on tweeting his views.
“And he’s of course entitled to hold his views, but the problem is that he is also a very highly – indeed the highest paid – person working for the BBC and is closely associated with the BBC.
“And I’m afraid those two things are not compatible.”
BBC director-general Tim Davie warned staff about their use of social media when he took on the role at the end of 2020, and guidelines around social media use have since been updated.
Staff were told they need to follow editorial guidelines and editorial oversight in the same way as when doing BBC content.
Lineker is a freelance broadcaster for the BBC, not a permanent member of staff, and is not responsible for news or political content so does not need to adhere to the same rules on impartiality.
A representative of Lineker has been connected for comment.
Lineker tweeted on Thursday that he was “very much looking forward” to presenting Match Of The Day on Saturday.
He previously told reporters outside his London home that he stood by his criticism of the immigration policy and did not fear suspension by the BBC.