By Naomi Clarke and Kerri-Ann Roper, PA Reporters
BBC presenter Alex Scott has said she will not host one of the broadcaster’s main soccer programmes on Saturday, throwing the corporation’s sporting timetable into further disarray.
The former Arsenal star said “it doesn’t feel right for me to go ahead” with presenting Football Focus as she joined a number of presenters pulling out of BBC shows after pundit Gary Lineker was told to step back from hosting the flagship soccer programme Match Of The Day in a row over impartiality.
The broadcaster has not yet confirmed if Football Focus, which is due to air at noon on Saturday, has been officially cancelled.
I made a decision last night that even though I love doing football focus and we have had an incredible week winning an SJA award that it just doesn’t feel right going ahead with the show today. Hopefully I will be back in the chair next week…
— Alex Scott MBE (@AlexScott) March 11, 2023
Former England player Scott wrote on Twitter: “I made a decision last night that even though I love my show and we have had an incredible week winning an SJA for football focus that it doesn’t feel right for me to go ahead with the show today.
“Hopefully I will be back in the chair next week.”
Kelly Somers also confirmed she will not be presenting any BBC show on Saturday, after former England footballers and MOTD regulars Alan Shearer and Ian Wright announced on Friday night they would be boycotting the programme in solidarity with Lineker.
Pundit Glenn Murray pulled out of appearing on Football Focus and Final Score on Saturday.
The former Brighton striker tweeted: “Was meant to be up in Media City today but reflecting last night I felt it was the right thing to do to step away from Focus & Score today.
Was meant to be up in Media City today but reflecting last night I felt it was the right thing to do to step away from Focus & Score today.
Hoping normal service resumes next week 🤞🏼
— Glenn Murray (@GM_83) March 11, 2023
“Hoping normal service resumes next week.”
Welsh presenter Jason Mohammad also confirmed he would not be hosting Final Score on Saturday afternoon.
He tweeted: “As you know, Final Score is a TV show very close to my heart.
“However – I have this morning informed the BBC that I will not be presenting the show this afternoon on BBC One.”
As you know, Final Score is a TV show very close to my heart.
However – I have this morning informed the BBC that I will not be presenting the show this afternoon on BBC One.
— Jason Mohammad (@jasonmohammad) March 11, 2023
On Friday evening, several of the show’s commentators shared a joint statement online, announcing they would be stepping down from Saturday’s broadcast.
A previous joint statement from Match Of The Day commentators, including Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Rowen and Steven Wyeth, said they did “not feel it would be appropriate to take part in the programme” given the current circumstances.
The BBC show is due to go ahead on Saturday evening without a presenter, pundits and several regular commentators.
In a previous statement, the BBC said the programme would “focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry”, saying it understood the position of its presenters.
It comes after Lineker (62) was taken off air for a tweet which compared the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany.
The broadcaster said it had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights programme until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.
Former BBC director-general Greg Dyke said the corporation had made a “mistake” and “undermined its own credibility” by taking Lineker off air.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the precedent at the corporation is that “news and current affairs employees are expected to be impartial and not the rest”.
“If you start applying the rules of news and current affairs to everybody who works for the BBC, where does it end?”, he said.
He added: “There is a long-established precedent in the BBC that is, that if you’re an entertainment presenter or you’re a football presenter, then you are not bound by those same (impartiality) rules.
“The real problem of today is that the BBC has undermined its own credibility by doing this because it looks like – the perception out there – is that the BBC has bowed to Government pressure.
“And once the BBC does that, then you’re in real problems.
“The perception out there is going to be that Gary Lineker, a much-loved television presenter, was taken off air after government pressure on a particular issue.”
A spokesman for the Professional Footballers’ Association said in a statement on Twitter that they had “been informed that players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with Match Of The Day”.
It continued: “The PFA have been speaking to members who wanted to take a collective position and to be able to show their support for those who have chosen not to be part of tonight’s programme.
“During those conversations we made clear that, as their union, we would support all members who might face consequences for choosing not to complete their broadcast commitments.
“This is a common sense decision that ensures players won’t now be put in that position.”
Richard Ayre, former controller of editorial policy at the BBC, said the broadcaster’s reputation is “bigger and more important” than any individual, including Gary Lineker.
Mr Ayre told BBC Breakfast on Saturday that there will be “real street-to-street fighting” between political parties in the lead-up to the general election.
“The BBC, in this time of all times, has to tread as straight a line as it can between the parties and avoid taking sides in its own output, and the BBC believes it also has to ensure that those key people who are identified as the BBC in the public mind also walk a straight line in what they say on their private social network,” he said.
On Lineker stepping back from presenting Match Of The Day, Mr Ayre continued: “It’s a sad occasion for viewers, for anybody who’s interested in football, it will be very sad if they can’t reconcile with Gary.
“He is superlative, he is absolutely extraordinarily good, not just as a football pundit, of course, but I think, in my 50 or so years of association with the BBC, I’ve never come across such a naturally gifted television presenter.
“He’s terrific and it will be very sad if he goes, but frankly the BBC and its reputation is bigger and more important than any individual, even Gary.”