Monday, March 13, 2023

Connie Evans, PA Entertainment Reporter

Gary Lineker has received an influx of support from fellow sports pundits, broadcasters and famous faces following the news that he will return to his Match Of The Day presenting duties this weekend.

The 62-year-old was taken off-air last week for a tweet comparing the language used to launch a new asylum seeker policy from the British government with 1930s Germany.

Following the news that the former England footballer will return to his role at the BBC, ex-presenter Dan Walker and former Manchester United footballer Gary Neville were among those appearing to poke fun at the BBC’s U-turn.

“Unnecessary fixture decided by an own goal,” Walker tweeted.

Sky Sports pundit Neville was amused by the fact BBC director-general Tim Davie had apologised to Lineker, tweeting the word “apology” with two laughing emojis.

Current MOTD commentator Conor McNamara, who was one of a number of BBC Sports pundits to pull out of their regular presenting roles over the weekend in solidarity with Lineker, tweeted: “Now… can we go back to arguing about VAR?”

Elsewhere on social media, Lineker’s eldest son, George, tweeted a goat emoji – often used to signify G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) – in response to the news that his father would be returning to his BBC presenting duties.

Comedians Nish Kumar and Dara Ó Briain shared their thoughts, with Kumar tweeting: “One of the best things about the end of the Match Of The Day saga, is that we don’t have to listen to various Tory MP’s talk about football. It’s been like listening to a dog describe chess.”

Ó Briain wrote: “Well done @garylineker at enduring this ridiculous, contrived ‘controversy’; and demonstrating that, as ever, people are perfectly capable of handling the idea that a grown-up can have a public job and also be separately, politically engaged in their own time. We’re not babies.”

Former BBC foreign correspondent Jon Sopel used the analogy of Liverpool’s recent catastrophic win over Manchester United to share his thoughts on the BBC’s back-peddling, tweeting: “Umm. To put this in footballing terms, this is akin to the result at Anfield last weekend. And Lineker is Liverpool.”

The tweet followed Sopel’s earlier post in which he wrote: “Thought for Monday: it’s taken the Treasury and Bank of England less time to deal with complexity of finding a buyer for a failed bank, involving billions of pounds and affecting 1000s of investors, than it has for the BBC to sort out a tweet from Gary Lineker.”

Labour also weighed in on the conversation, which has dominated news headlines and front pages for the past week, and welcomed the announcement of Lineker’s MOTD return.

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said: “This is welcome and we will all be pleased to see Gary Lineker and football coverage back on the BBC this weekend. A review of the BBC’s social media guidelines is clearly needed.

“But much bigger questions remain about the impartiality and independence of the BBC from government pressures.

“The Tory government have long wanted to undermine the BBC. They appointed a BBC chair now subject to investigation over his personal links to the Conservative Party.

“The ongoing uncertainties around the future of the BBC are keeping it over a barrel and making it susceptible to political campaigns orchestrated by ministers, MPs and the right-wing press.

“As well as a review of the BBC’s social media guidelines, this saga should prompt the government to examine how it protects and promotes a truly independent and impartial BBC.”

Shadow foreign secretary and MP for Tottenham David Lammy tweeted: “Glad that normal coverage will resume and @GaryLineker will return to his rightful place on #MOTD, but it should never have come to this.

“The BBC should not cower to the populist whims of Tory politicians and right-wing media frenzies. Our democracy depends on it.”

Former journalist and Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell was among those praising Lineker for his “professionalism, accountability and integrity”.

“Well done @garylineker for showing that if you believe in professionalism, accountability and integrity with values to match you can prevail even in these populist polarised days of creeping right wing authoritarianism,” he tweeted.

Former BBC TV and radio presenter Roger Bolton said the BBC’s plan for a review into its social media guidance following the confirmation of Lineker’s return “in itself resolves nothing”.

Bolton, who hosts Roger Bolton’s Beeb Watch podcast, said: “The review is necessary but its independence depends on who conducts it. Will it simply analyse the problem or give recommendations?

“Is the BBC committed to accept any recommendations? It seems not.

“The report will be given to the BBC board to decide what further should be done. It is chaired by someone, Richard Sharp, who is not seen as impartial by many people and who has been missing in action over the last crucial days.

“And has Gary Lineker agreed not to tweet on controversial issues while the review takes place? This is an important and necessary holding operation but in itself resolves nothing.”

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