WILL BBC DO LINEKER DEAL TODAY TO END TV STAND-OFF?
Beeb boss flies back from US for crisis talks in bid to get £1.35m star back on screen by Saturday
GARY Lineker could return to our screens at the weekend after BBC bosses edged closer to settling the crisis sparked by his anti-Tory tweets.
The corporation’s directorgeneral Tim Davie flew back to Britain yesterday ahead of crisis talks with the star presenter.
Lineker refused to be drawn on his future as the furore over his attack on the Government’s migration policy rumbled on for another day.
But in a sign of a thaw in the dispute, a BBC spokesman said: ‘ We are working hard on a resolution and hope to have him back with us as soon as possible.’ And last night Sky News reported sources close to Lineker saying they are ‘increasingly confident’ the dispute will be resolved ‘to his satisfaction’ within the next 24 hours, meaning he could be back hosting Match of the Day on Saturday.
Rishi Sunak had called on BBC chiefs to ‘sort out’ the mess after an extraordinary weekend in which its football coverage was severely disrupted when fellow pundits and commentators refused to take part in programmes in protest at Lineker being suspended over his Twitter comments.
Mr Davie is expected to hold talks
with the former England captain, the BBC’s highest-paid star on £1.35million a year, urgently, with insiders optimistic of resolving the stand-off in time for this weekend’s FA Cup quarter-finals.
A BBC source told the Telegraph things are ‘moving quickly’, adding: ‘Tim Davie has been clear that he wants to resolve the situation and see the MOTD presenter back on air. Gary and his representatives have been in talks for a number of days and these are ongoing.’
But there will have to be concessions from both sides given their incompatible positions on freedom of speech and impartiality.
The BBC is expected to be forced into launching a review of its guidelines on impartiality for freelance presenters such as Lineker, 62.
The Independent reported yesterday that ‘ambiguities’ in the presenter’s contract mean the corporation fears it cannot force him to follow its rules, which prohibit staff members from making political comments. It came as:
▪ Lineker’s son George said his father ‘won’t back down’, but added: ‘Will he go back to Match of the Day? I think so – he loves Match of the Day’;
▪ Last night’s Match of the Day 2 was set to follow Saturday’s highlights show in being cut down to just 14 minutes;
▪ The Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Manchester United on BBC2 yesterday had no pre-match introduction or pundits, and used a non-BBC commentary supplied for global audiences;
▪ SportsMail columnist and football pundit Chris Sutton called on his colleagues to return to the microphone.
The row began on Tuesday last week after Lineker posted remarks to his 8.8 million Twitter followers likening ministers’ language around the Illegal Migration Bill, which bans those who arrive on small boats from settling in Britain, to Nazi Germany.
Speaking as he flew to the US for talks with President Joe Biden and Australian prime minister Anthony Alba nese, Mr Sunak said it was time for the BBC to get a grip of the issue before viewers face further disruption.
The Prime Minister told reporters: ‘These issues are for the BBC to sort out... I hope they can resolve it in a timely fashion. I think Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a very talented presenter but this is an issue they need to resolve themselves.’
The PM would not be drawn on whether he retains confidence in Mr Davie, who has been criticised for his handling of the affair. Mr Davie flew back from Washington DC yesterday morning, where he had been meeting bureau staff.
Saturday night’s Match of the Day, presented by Lineker since 1999, was a scaled-back package of highlights lasting just 20 minutes.
It was broadcast without a presenter, pundits, commentators or its famous theme tune after stars including Alan Shearer and Ian Wright refused to appear in ‘solidarity’ with Lineker.
Nevertheless, it was watched by 2.6 million viewers – up by around half a million on the previous Saturday’s edition.
The BBC’s sports programming could return to normal as early as today, with Mark Chapman, who did not appear on Match of the Day 2, due to present The Monday Night Club on Radio 5 Live.
Lineker was tight-lipped as he left his home in south west London to walk his dog yesterday. He replied ‘I can’t say anything’ when asked if his BBC career was over and whether he had been in contact with rivals Sky or BT.
Mr Davie apologised for the ‘disruption’, and said that ‘everyone wants to calmly resolve the situation’. But he insisted he would ‘absolutely not’ resign over the matter.
Lineker has admitted that
‘An issue the BBC needs to resolve’
‘Comments are a step too far’
comparison of the Tory Government’s policies and the Nazis was ‘a step too far’, according to former tennis star Andrew Castle.
Castle said on his LBC show at the weekend: ‘I said to him that I thought to draw the 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.’