The BBC’s director general has said bosses are “working very hard” to fix the damage done to the broadcaster following the suspension of Gary Lineker.
Tim Davie was speaking after a day when Football Focus and Final Score were taken off the air and Match Of The Day – usually presented by Lineker – was just 20 minutes long with no commentary or analysis and without even its distinctive theme tune.
The programmes were hit after sports presenters and pundits – including Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, Jason Mohammad and Alex Scott – said they would not work, in solidarity with Lineker, who was suspended after tweeting criticism of the government’s new asylum seeker bill.
Mr Davie told a BBC journalist: “As a keen sports fan I know that to miss programming is a real blow and I’m sorry about that.
“We are working very hard to resolve this situation and make sure we get output on air.
“I am in listening mode. I want to make sure that going forward we have a workable solution.”
He refused to go into detail about discussions, but said: “To be clear, success for me is: Gary gets back on air and together we are giving to the audiences that world-class sports coverage which, as I say, I’m sorry we haven’t been able to deliver today.”
The row began on Tuesday when Lineker tweeted comments comparing the language used by the government about asylum seekers to that used in 1930s Germany, when the Nazis came to power – comments that the BBC said had broken editorial guidelines on impartiality.
‘He will always speak up for people who don’t have a voice’
But, speaking to the Sunday Mirror, Lineker’s eldest son George said his father had been “a bit disappointed” by the BBC’s reaction but he would not “back down on his word”.
He added: “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 has 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.”
A snap YouGov poll showed that 53% of the British public say the BBC was wrong to suspend the former football star and veteran broadcaster.
Some 27% said the BBC was right, while 20% did not know.
PM: ‘Not everyone will always agree’ on new asylum seeker policy
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was reluctant to comment on the matter, saying the row between the BBC and Lineker is “a matter for them, not the government”, but he admitted that “not everyone will always agree” with the new asylum seeker policy.
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The BBC’s guidelines on impartiality explained – and do they apply to Gary Lineker?
While Lineker has been criticised for anti-government tweets, the dispute has also put the spotlight on pro-government connections at the state broadcaster.
BBC chairman Richard Sharp is facing growing calls to resign, following allegations that he helped secure an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson.
This was before he took up the role in January 2021, having been recommended by then-PM Mr Johnson and having his appointment approved by a committee of MPs.
And before he moved to the BBC, Mr Davie was deputy chairman of the Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative Party.
Doubt over Sunday’s BBC sports coverage
Meanwhile, there is doubt over the BBC’s sports coverage today, with many presenters and commentators still in doubt.
Pundit Jermain Defoe has said he will not appear on Match Of The Day 2, while the programme’s host Mark Chapman did not present for BBC Radio 5 Live Sport on Saturday.
Gabby Logan is due to host live coverage from 2.15pm as Scotland play Ireland at Murrayfield for the Six Nations Rugby, but she had not yet commented publicly on whether she will present the show or not.
The Women’s Football Show is scheduled to air from 11.45pm but it could also be affected by the BBC only airing “limited sport programming” this weekend.