At first glance, the Gary Lineker saga might seem like a story merely for domestic British consumption: a former English footballer fronting a programme on the public broadcaster, embroiled in a row with the UK government.
Yet the drama over Mr Lineker’s refugee tweets captured the global imagination, making the front-page news around the world, despite numerous competing stories, from the war in Ukraine to the Oscars. It became a prism to explain various issues convulsing modern Britain, from Brexit and freedom of speech to the BBC’s independence and the government’s controversial immigration policies.
Spain’s El Pais newspaper said “Gary Lineker has been the clear winner in this for the attempt to censor his opinions…There was a wave of sympathy from fans, who supported him with posters in stadiums saying, ‘I’m with Gary. Immigrants are welcome.’”
Italy’s Corriere della Sera said yesterday’s announcement on Mr Lineker’s return did not end the matter. “The crisis is far from resolved: at its heart is the question of the impartiality of the BBC, which is its trademark and the source of its worldwide authority,” it said.
La Repubblica’s Antonello Guerrera, profiling Mr Lineker, noted his middle name is Winston, after Winston Churchill, with whom he shares a birthday, and favourably compared their respective stands against injustice and tyranny. “But don’t call him a bad boy or a troublemaker. In 16 years of top-level football, he never received a single yellow card,” Mr Guerrera wrote.
In Germany, where Mr Lineker is partly known for his epigram, “Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and in the end, the Germans win,” the tabloid Bild recognised Mr Lineker as a national treasure. “There was a great wave of solidarity with the popular Lineker,” it said.
The more sober Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung sympathised with Mr Lineker’s comparison of government language to that of the Nazis in the 1930s, noting that Home Secretary Suella Braverman had previously spoken of an “invasion” of boat refugees, “although Great Britain only accepts a small number of refugees compared to Germany.”
Dutch newspaper NRC interviewed German-born University of Strathclyde professor Tanja Bueltmann, who said Mr Lineker was right in his comparison. “It’s about recognising similarities in the populist toolbox,” she said. “Nazism did not start with mass murder, it started in much more gradual ways and language played a key role in this…dehumanising groups of people as ‘the other.’”
In Belgium, La Dernière Heure’s Simon Hamoir noted that this was virtually the only subject of conversation in England. “And for good reason: the Gary Lineker case may well leave its mark on the BBC, and the British government.”
The Dutch-language De Standaard focused on the BBC, saying, “The British government reacted as if stung by a wasp,” and noted that “The BBC gave the impression that the government can dictate to the broadcaster what to do.”
In France, daily Libération said the suspension was an overreaction, which showed, “a lack of phlegm,” while noting Mr Lineker’s “irreproachable behaviour throughout his career.”
Beyond Europe, The New York Times warned that “the fallout from the dispute is likely to be wide and long-lasting, casting doubt over the corporation’s management, which has made political impartiality a priority but has faced persistent questions about its own close ties to Britain’s Conservative government.”
And the Wall Street Journal compared Mr Lineker to Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback, suspended after he protested racial inequality and police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem.
It also noted that “unlike the US, where the TV landscape is highly polarised…the BBC still largely sets the television news agenda nationally. It is widely seen as one of the most critical institutions in modern Britain, responsible for having shaped everything from culture to the British accent.”