Match of the Day 2 will run in a “much-reduced format” this evening, after last night’s shorter broadcast of the flagship show won half a million more viewers than usual.
Match of the Day was broadcast yesterday in a dramatically scaled-down 20-minute version yesterday, compared with its usual 80 minutes, and rebranded Premier League Highlights, with no presenter, pundits, commentary or even its famous theme tune, after Gary Lineker’s suspension from the show. Several presenters and reporters withdrew in solidarity with Lineker, with neither Football Focus nor Final Score airing – while 5 Live’s radio coverage was radically altered throughout the day.
The BBC’s Sports Editor, Dan Roan, said this morning: “Expecting Match of the Day 2 to follow similar much-reduced format to Match of the Day last night.” He added: at “At this stage BBC expecting the planned Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Manchester United this afternoon to be on BBC2, but with no pre-match presentation.”
Last night’s Match of the Day was watched by 2.58 million TV viewers on BBC One, up nearly 500,000 on last Saturday’s figure of of 2.09 million, according to BARB overnights. “It’s the show’s biggest audience since 5 November 2022 when 2.63m watched,” Lizo Mzimba, the BBC’s entertainment correspondent, said.
Lineker was told to step back from Match Of The Day on Friday after tweeting that the language used to launch the Government’s new asylum seeker policy was “not dissimilar” to that seen in 1930s Germany.
This morning, Mark Thompson, the BBC’s former director-general, said that “on the face of it” Lineker’s tweet was a “technical breach” of guidelines but admitted that it was a “grey area” because Lineker was not a news presenter, and that he hoped he would be back on air tonight.
Speaking on BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Thompson, who served in the role between 2004 and 2012, said that “on the face of it” Lineker’s tweet was a “technical breach” of BBC guidelines, which state those working for the BBC outside its news and factual departments still have an “additional responsibility” given their profile.
He added: “I think we have also got our old friend the grey area here. In other words, no one thinks this is the same as you or Huw Edwards doing it. This is not like a news presenter basically tearing up the impartiality principles inside the news machine.”
Pressed on whether BBC chairman Richard Sharp, who has faced growing calls to resign over the cronyism row caused by him helping Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility, should temporarily step aside until the issue was resolved, Mr Thompson said: “Gary Lineker is an active broadcaster for the BBC. Richard Sharp is part of the governing body which doesn’t take decisions in real time about actual editorial matters.”
He said “the most sensible thing again is just calm down, ignore the papers and let the person who is doing the inquiry complete their inquiry” instead of making decisions “on the fly”.
Asked whether he thought Lineker would be back on air tonight, he replied: “I hope so.”
Asked whether he thought Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, would survive this, he added: “I absolutely hope so and believe so.”
Meanwhile Peter Salmon, a previous controller of BBC One and director of sport, suggested Lineker might have “outgrown” his role at the BBC.
He said the continuing row was a “mess” and Mr Davie needed to get a “grip” of the situation. He told Laura Kuenssberg: “It’s complex and he’s a major figure. Twenty-five years in Match Of The Day – he’s more than just a TV presenter, he’s a national figure. He’s got views, he’s got passions, he’s been involved in looking after Ukrainian refugees. It may be that Gary’s outgrown the job and the role in the BBC.
“Twenty-five years in, before that Des Lynam, Gary took over, he’s been brilliant. Sometimes there’s a point at which you cross the line.”
Reflecting on the disruption to the BBC’s sports schedule this weekend due to pundits walking out in solidarity with Lineker, he added: “It’s a mess, isn’t it? They must be wishing they could reel back 72 hours and start all over again. It’s Oscars day but there’s no awards for how this has been managed.
“I think they’ve got to take action pretty quickly. It doesn’t help the chairman of the BBC himself is slacked to one side in this process and there’s a bit of an issue. Tim Davie is isolated in some ways, he needs to come home and grip this now. We need him back running the ship.”
Mr Davie has defended the decision to suspend Lineker as his own impartiality was called into question after the broadcaster’s sports programming was severely disrupted on Saturday.
Speaking to BBC News on Saturday, he praised Lineker as “the best in the business” and said he wants to find a “reasonable solution” to get him back on air.
He said: “I’m very sorry for the disruption today. It’s been a difficult day and I’m sorry that audiences have been affected and they haven’t got the programming. As a keen sports fan, I know like everyone that to miss programming is a real blow and I am sorry about that. We are working very hard to resolve the situation and make sure that we get output back on air.”
Mr Davie, who stood as a Conservative councillor in 1993, said he did not feel the issue was about “left or right” politics, but about the corporation’s ability to balance free speech and impartiality, adding: “We’re fierce champions of democratic debate, free speech, but with that comes the need to create an impartial organisation.”
Meanwhile in an interview with The Sunday Mirror, Lineker’s eldest son said he thought the sports presenter would return to Match Of The Day – but that he would not “back down on his word”.
George Lineker claimed his father had been “a bit disappointed” by the BBC asking him to step back but that he had been “overwhelmed by the support” of fellow pundits.
He said: “Dad is a good man, a good human, and I’m proud of him for standing by his word. That’s why he was pulled off the show – because he wouldn’t apologise. But he will always speak up for people who don’t have a voice. He is passionate about helping refugee charities – he took in two refugees who he is still in touch with and trying to help.
“It means a lot to him to stand up for people whose only hope is to escape a country with only the clothes on their back. That’s why he’s been so firm.
“Will he go back to Match of the Day? I think so – he loves Match of the Day. But he won’t ever back down on his word.”