The BBC has been plunged into crisis with star pundits saying they will boycott Saturday night’s Match of the Day after the broadcaster forced Gary Lineker off air over his migration tweets.
Alan Shearer and Ian Wright said that they will refuse to appear on the show after Lineker was told he will not be allowed to present Match of the Day until an agreement is reached on his social media use.
The BBC’s highest-paid presenter refused to back down over tweets comparing the Government’s migration policy to Nazi Germany, which the BBC said was a breach of its impartiality guidelines.
BBC Director-General Tim Davie stood Lineker down after days of discussion with the £1.35m a-year star and his agent ended in deadlock.
The BBC boss is now facing a furious political backlash and an open revolt from the BBC’s biggest names who came out in support of Lineker. Wright said: “Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity.”
Shearer also refused to go on the show: “I have informed the BBC that I won’t be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night.”
Other member of the show’s punditry team, Micah Richards and Jermaine Jenas said they backed the pair’s decision .
The pair are not scheduled to present the show tomorrow but said they would have refused if they were.
Alex Scott, tipped as Lineker’s replacement, hinted that she would also refuse to present the show when she shared a meme on Twitter with the words “nah not me”, and wrote alongside it “FYI…”
Lineker confirmed to i the decision was forced upon him. And he is understood to have been reduced to tears by the support he has received.
Labour condemned the BBC’s “cowardly decision” to stand Lineker down from hosting duties. A party source called it “an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure.”
But Conservative figures said Mr Davie had no choice. Former Tory leader William Hague said what Lineker tweeted was “against the rules and we’ve got to do something about that, otherwise every presenter can do so on every programme.”
Sky Sports News host Jeff Stelling praised Wright’s decison, saying: “Well played Wrighty.”
Grand Tour host Jeremy Clarkson said: “Good on you mate.”
There is acceptance within the BBC that Lineker’s “stepping back” from Match of the Day may become permanent.
He won support from Emily Maitlis, the former BBC presenter who left after being found to have breached impartiality rules.
“I’m not sure when they suggested to Gary Lineker he step back the BBC realised it might be starting a much much bigger battle,” she said.
The BBC said Lineker would not present Match of the Day “until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media”.
A statement continued: “When it comes to leading our football and sports coverage, Gary is second to none.”
“We have never said that Gary should be an opinion free zone, or that he can’t have a view on issues that matter to him, but we have said that he should keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies.”
Former head of BBC television news Roger Mosey sympathised with Davie.
“You can see that from the BBC’s point of view, if Gary is saying I won’t abide by a process, there is a fundamental challenge of, if you like, the discipline of running a production team and a set of presenters, which makes that very hard,” he said.
The BBC also faces a revolt from viewers. Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said he would boycott Match Of The Day “until the BBC grows a backbone”.
Comedian Joe Lycett appeared to make light of the show being without its pundits for tomorrow’s show by suggesting he wanted to host it in the presenter’s absence.
He tweeted: “I have informed the BBC that I am very much available for tomorrow’s #MOTD.”