Daily Mail


He’s due back on box this weekend as agreement ‘not far away’ ++ FA threaten legal action if Cup coverage is compromise­d


THE BBC and Gary Lineker were last night moving towards a resolution after a weekend of unpreceden­ted chaos following the suspension of the Match of the Day host.

Under-fire director-general Tim Davie flew back from the United States for crisis talks with Lineker after walkouts from a host of big names decimated the BBC’s sports coverage. BBC insiders said an agreement that would see Lineker back on screen at the weekend was ‘not far away’ amid widespread disruption to programmes in the past 48 hours.

Indeed, it was hoped that programmin­g would return to normal today with Mark Chapman — who sat the weekend out — set to host this evening’s Monday Night Club on Radio 5 Live. All BBC Sport staff have been

OIt will be a bonus if the self-righteous Colin Murray extends his boycott a little while longer

ne evening, when I was six years old, we were driving across Manchester to have dinner at my grandma’s house in Urmston. We had got as far as Didsbury when we saw an accident. A woman tried to cross the road ahead of us to our right and was hit by a car. She was flung into the air. My mum and dad rushed to try to help, we waited for the ambulance to arrive and then the police took witness statements from my parents.

The point of this has little to do with the woman’s misfortune and everything to do with the fact that being witnesses to the accident delayed us for a few hours. We didn’t get to Urmston until after my normal bedtime.

By then, a wild hope had started to form in my football-mad brain. It had always been off limits before, but when we pulled up in the drive I asked the question anyway: ‘Can I watch Match of the Day?’

And that night, sitting in the front room of my grandparen­ts’ house on Moorside Road, I watched Match of the Day for the first time and it is burned on my brain as vividly and as fondly as any of the landmarks of my youth.

Hearing the opening theme tune, seeing David Coleman sitting behind his desk, listening to his introducti­on and then watching the first package of highlights, in black and white, felt like being admitted to a magical new world.

The programme has been a fixture in my life for 50 years now, something to set the clocks by as times change around it, something to watch when you get back from the pub, something to watch with a glass of wine when you’ve put the kids to bed, something to watch with a takeaway on your lap, something to tape if you’ve been out with friends, something to talk about on the touchline the next morning. Once, we used to talk about something Jimmy Hill might have said.

On Saturday night, I rushed back from Twickenham to watch Match of the Day again. There was no magic this time. There was barely even a football show. The theme tune appeared to have been banned along with the presenter. not a single word was uttered because there was no one to utter it.

Brief highlights of the day’s matches were shown. There were no closing credits. no one wanted anything to do with this abominatio­n. It was the biggest own goal in sports broadcasti­ng history in this country.

It lasted for 20 minutes but even though we saw goals and disallowed goals and a few near misses and a red card, the Match of the Day that the BBC aired on Saturday night was not a football show.

It was a sterile, soulless, grim piece of television, without the colour brought by commentato­rs, analysts and presenter Gary Lineker, aired, presumably, in a desperate attempt to prevent the BBC being in breach of its contract with the Premier League.

It felt faintly sinister, as though we had been ushered into a dystopia where all comment is banned and anything apart from pictures is considered subversive. This is what it looks like when you no-platform your best sports presenter in a confused spat about the shibboleth of impartiali­ty and then wonder why his colleagues refuse to do the rest of your dirty work for you.

Those bleak 20 minutes on Saturday were an abject betrayal of a programme that is a television institutio­n. They were an act of cultural vandalism, authored by a BBC director-general, Tim Davie, who should quit while he still has a chance of sparing himself a career epitaph as ‘the man who killed Match of the Day’ and tore BBC sport asunder.

Because, as Davie arrived back from the United States yesterday and suggestion­s grew that a resolution with Lineker might be close, that is what is at risk here in the BBC’s pathetical­ly clumsy, clunky, brainless handling of its row with the former england player over a tweet he wrote last week in which he drew comparison­s between the language used by the Conservati­ve government over Britain’s migration policy with language used in 1930s Germany.

Whether you agree with what Lineker said or not, whether you think a reference to 1930s Germany in that context is a calumny that risks trivialisi­ng the murder of millions during the Holocaust, whether you think he is the voice of compassion and decency, whether you think he should stick to football, whether you think he is a champagne socialist, whether your view of him is still coloured by the fact that he was a brilliant striker who won the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup, he is the best sports presenter in this country and the guidelines governing what he can and cannot say about politics when tweeting in a personal capacity leave room for ambiguity.

If you disagree with what he says, that’s fine, plenty do. Question his intellect if you want, question his historical knowledge, back yourself to deconstruc­t his argument and discredit it, but don’t try to silence him by resorting to halfbaked rules about impartiali­ty that are merrily ignored, without censure, by other high-profile BBC presenters, at a time when the BBC hierarchy is riddled with examples of political cronyism.

Remember this, too — before the

World Cup in Qatar in November, the BBC encouraged Lineker to broadcast an opening on- air monologue referencin­g allegation­s of corruption surroundin­g the awarding of the tournament to the Gulf state, its criminalis­ation of same- sex relationsh­ips and its treatment of migrant workers.

So it was OK for Lineker to voice political opinions then, but not now? You don’t just turn opinions on and off like a tap.

You can’t be a sports journalist or sports presenter without talking about politics any more. Sport is not an island. Whether you like it or not — and I would a million times rather have a player confident enough to voice his own opinions than a talking hologram — the days have gone when sportsmen and women stayed in their lane. Sports stars have a voice and a platform and they are no longer afraid to use it.

There is no point saying that sport and politics don’t mix any more. It sounds nice but it is not true. Dictators like Vladimir Putin use sporting events such as the men’s World Cup and the Olympics to burnish their country’s internatio­nal standing and embolden their allies. Gulf autocracie­s such as Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi own Premier League football clubs to try to wash away unwanted scrutiny of human rights records.

We already know that history respects sportsmen and women who protest against the establishm­ent. Muhammad Ali may have been the greatest sportsman who ever lived purely by dint of what he achieved in the boxing ring, but what sealed the argument was the stance he took

Davie should quit now to spare himself an epitaph as ‘the man who killed Match of the Day’

against the Vietnam War. ‘I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,’ is the statement he is best remembered for.

We can add John Carlos, Tommie Smith and their black power salutes at the 1968 Olympic Games to that list, Billie Jean King and her work in the Battle of the Sexes in tennis and Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterbac­k who first took the knee to protest against police brutality and racial intoleranc­e.

Lineker may not belong in their company yet, but the BBC is doing their damnedest to elevate him to it. They are turning him into their very own political prisoner.

Davie seems to have underestim­ated the power and popularity of sport and now he has turned football’s best presenter into a catalyst for crisis at the organisati­on, a touchstone for opposition to a government policy.

He has made him eminently more influentia­l than if he had adopted the same pragmatic approach to Lineker’s tweet that the corporatio­n has adopted to other presenters. The fools at the football clubs who tried to establish a European Super League, that would have destroyed English football, made the same mistake. The unanimity of the supporters’ reaction against the ESL surprised those who had planned it.

There have been echoes of that in football’s reaction to the suspension of Lineker. The togetherne­ss of the BBC’s commentato­rs and pundits, and their willingnes­s to take a principled stand to support Lineker, appears to have startled Davie too.

The BBC’s mandarins have ruined Match of the Day and they have turned Lineker into a cause celebre. The corporatio­n has given opponents of the Government’s immigratio­n policy a dynamic, charismati­c figure to coalesce around. To adapt the words on banners sometimes seen at football grounds praising the failures of rival managers, Government opponents could be forgiven for saying: ‘Come in Agent Davie, your work is done.’

There may be the odd benefit of Davie’s calamitous mismanagem­ent of the situation. It would be a bonus if the insufferab­ly and relentless­ly self-righteous Colin Murray extends his personal boycott of programmin­g for a little while longer, but that might be too much to hope for.

Everything else Davie has touched has turned to dust, after all. The sooner he resigns or admits his errors and backs down, the better.

Maybe then, we will get Match of the Day back before he destroys it completely.

 ?? ?? Screen test: Lineker is set to host BBC’s FA Cup coverage
Screen test: Lineker is set to host BBC’s FA Cup coverage
Bit of a laugh: Lineker appeared relaxed as he shared a joke while watching Leicester lose 3-1 to Chelsea at the King Power, where fans showed support for their former striker
GETTY IMAGES / REUTERS SATURDAY: LEICESTER Bit of a laugh: Lineker appeared relaxed as he shared a joke while watching Leicester lose 3-1 to Chelsea at the King Power, where fans showed support for their former striker
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 ?? REUTERS ?? Spotlight: Lineker leaves his home in the capital SUNDAY: LONDON
REUTERS Spotlight: Lineker leaves his home in the capital SUNDAY: LONDON

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