By Alex Green, PA Acting Deputy Entertainment Editor
The BBC has been urged to get a “grip” of the impartiality row over Gary Lineker as its sports coverage faced disruption for a second consecutive day.
Match Of The Day aired for only 20 minutes on Saturday without accompanying commentary or analysis from pundits following a boycott in “solidarity” with former England striker Lineker.
And Sunday’s Match Of The Day 2 will follow a similar reduced format to Saturday night’s programme, commentator Guy Mowbray confirmed.
It’s always such a privilege to work with BBC MOTD. But tomorrow I have taken the decision to stand down from my punditry duties. @GaryLineker
— Jermain Defoe OBE (@IAmJermainDefoe) March 11, 2023
Uncertainty over Match Of The Day 2 grew on Saturday after main presenter Mark Chapman was absent from his BBC radio duties and Jermain Defoe announced he had pulled out of appearing as a pundit on the highlights show.
Mowbray wrote on Twitter: “As yesterday, there will be no ‘normal’ MOTD(2) programme tonight. The scheduled commentary team are in full agreement with our BBC Sport colleagues. We hope that a resolution can be found ASAP.”
The live coverage of Sunday’s Women’s Super League match between Chelsea and Manchester United ran on BBC Two with no pre-match presentation and using world feed commentary.
Gabby Logan is also scheduled to host live coverage from 2.15pm as Scotland play Ireland at Murrayfield, but Six Nations coverage is not due to be disrupted.
Radio 5 Live’s coverage was radically altered throughout the day on Saturday and there was a change to its Sunday schedules too, with its usual ‘Premier League Sunday’ show from midday to 2pm replaced by episodes of Sport’s Strangest Crimes. The afternoon’s two Premier League commentaries from 2pm remained on the schedules.
Former BBC executive Peter Salmon, who was previously controller of BBC One and director of sport, told Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg the situation was “complex” and Lineker is a “major figure”.
He added: “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, 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.”
Former BBC director-general Mark Thompson said he “absolutely hopes” and “believes” Davie will survive the impartiality row surrounding Lineker.
Asked by Kuenssberg whether he thought Lineker would be back on air by Sunday night, he replied: “I hope so.”
The BBC’s decision on Friday to stand Lineker down from presenting Match Of The Day, after he compared language used to launch a new UK government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany in a tweet, has prompted a growing number of its sports presenters to boycott their shows.
Davie has apologised for the disruption but said he will not resign.
It is the latest controversy to hit the corporation after its chairman, Richard Sharp, became embroiled in a cronyism row over him helping Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 (€900,000) loan facility.
The BBC also faces a strike on Wednesday where up to 1,000 journalists are expected to walk out on the same day British finance minister Jeremy Hunt is due to deliver his spring budget.
“I don’t think Gary Lineker should have been taken off air.”
Shadow chancellor @RachelReevesMP says she wouldn’t have used Gary Lineker’s language, but the decision to take him off air was “out of proportion”#Ridge https://t.co/ZoMhCmTrtv
📺 Sky 501, Virgin 602 pic.twitter.com/B3RsdzTmt6
— Sophy Ridge on Sunday & The Take (@RidgeOnSunday) March 12, 2023
On Sunday, Hunt rowed back from demanding an apology for Lineker’s comments.
Asked if he still thought the TV pundit should apologise, he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I don’t agree with his comments and I personally think that he was wrong to say what he said, but I don’t think it’s for me to decide how that issue is resolved.
“If you believe in BBC independence, then it’s not for the chancellor or any other government minister to say how these issues are resolved.”
Asked whether the corporation’s leadership is too close to the party of Government, Hunt said it was not for him “to make those judgments”.
Rachel Reeves from the opposition Labour party criticised Tory MPs for “putting pressure” on the BBC to take Lineker off air.
She told Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I wouldn’t have used the language that Gary Lineker used.
“But do I think he should be taken off TV from doing commentary on the football? No, I don’t. And I think that was out of proportion.”
She said Tory MPs had nothing to say when Sharp was found to have helped facilitate a loan for Johnson.
Saturday night’s limited Match Of The Day was watched by 2.6 million viewers, according to overnight figures reported by BBC News – up by nearly half a million on last week’s show.
The BBC needs to do better.
We agree with Jurgen that their decision not to include commentary on Match of the Day is unacceptable.
The BBC should be upholding basic accessibility standards so that everyone can enjoy their output. https://t.co/CNfDHQe3CZ
— RNIB (@RNIB) March 12, 2023
However, the programme was radically different with a reduced run time and featuring only short highlight clips of the day’s matches.
The BBC was criticised by the Royal National Institute of Blind People for not providing commentary.
In response to a tweet from a blind fan calling it a breach of the equalities act, the RNIB wrote: “The BBC needs to do better. We agree with Jurgen that their decision not to include commentary on Match of the Day is unacceptable.
“The BBC should be upholding basic accessibility standards so that everyone can enjoy their output.”