Gary Lineker, a former English footballer turned prominent sports broadcaster, has found himself at the center of controversy once again. This time, it’s over his role as host of the BBC’s flagship show, “Match of the Day” (MOTD).
Lineker, who has been the face of MOTD for more than two decades, came under fire from some quarters after he criticized the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Twitter. He questioned why the country was not taking the same measures as other European countries and called for a “brief lockdown” to slow the spread of the virus.
This led to calls for the BBC to remove Lineker from hosting MOTD, with some accusing him of breaching the broadcaster’s impartiality rules. But Lineker has found a defender in the form of British TV personality Piers Morgan.
Morgan, who is no stranger to controversy himself, has defended Lineker’s right to express his opinions on social media. In a column for the Daily Mail, he accused the BBC of “ridiculous hypocrisy” for not standing by Lineker.
“The BBC has consistently upheld a ludicrous double standard that punishes its own presenters for expressing views on social media, while allowing countless others in the media world to say whatever they want without sanction,” Morgan wrote.
He pointed out that Lineker was not the only BBC presenter to have expressed political opinions on social media, but he was the only one facing criticism. Morgan also suggested that the BBC was bowing to pressure from right-wing politicians and media outlets who have long been critical of Lineker’s views.
“Gary Lineker is being hounded simply because he is a high-profile, left-leaning media figure who has dared to express an opinion about the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis,” Morgan wrote.
Lineker has been vocal in his opposition to the UK government’s handling of the pandemic, particularly its delay in implementing a national lockdown. He has also criticized the government’s handling of Brexit, the UK’s terms of exit from the European Union.
Some have accused him of bias and political activism, but Lineker has defended his right to express his views. He has argued that football is a reflection of society and that all issues, including politics, are fair game.
Morgan agrees, saying that “whatever your views on the specific comments made by Lineker or any other presenter, there can be no justification for the BBC creating a ludicrous, one-sided social media policy that penalizes a select group of its own stars while allowing everyone else to carry on tweeting with impunity.”
He called for the BBC to either scrap its impartiality policy or enforce it across the board, rather than singling out Lineker and a few others for punishment.
The backdrop to this controversy is the growing politicization of sports broadcasting in the UK. As the country becomes more divided over issues such as Brexit and the pandemic, sports personalities have found themselves being pulled into the fray.
In recent years, football has become an arena for political activism, with players taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and wearing rainbow armbands to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.
Lineker has been a vocal supporter of such gestures, arguing that football has a responsibility to address social issues. But his critics have accused him of using his platform to push his own political agenda.
This is not the first time that Lineker has found himself at odds with conservative commentators and politicians. He has been a vocal critic of Brexit and has campaigned for a second referendum. He has also spoken out against racism and homophobia in football.
In the past, Lineker has suggested that he may quit MOTD if he felt that his political views were putting the show at risk. But for now, he seems determined to stand his ground and defend his right to express his opinions.
What this controversy highlights is the complex role that sports personalities play in today’s politically charged world. As public figures with large followings, they have a platform to voice their views and influence public opinion.
But at the same time, they also face scrutiny and criticism from those who disagree with them. It is a delicate balancing act that requires a high degree of professionalism and self-awareness.
Lineker and the BBC are now navigating this minefield, as they try to maintain the integrity of MOTD while also respecting Lineker’s right to express his views. It remains to be seen how this will play out, but one thing is clear – the world of sports broadcasting is changing, and it is unlikely that controversy will ever be far away.