BBC urged to get a ‘grip' as Match of the Day 2 set to air without presenters
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.
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, and the broadcast will last only 15 minutes, according to listings on the BBC website.
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.
Coverage of the Six Nations match between Scotland and Ireland at Murrayfield, hosted by Gabby Logan on BBC One from 2.15pm, was not 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 Premier League commentaries from 2pm went ahead and, prior to coverage of Fulham against Arsenal, commentator Alistair Bruce-Ball acknowledged the “difficult time” BBC Sport was undergoing.
“I want to reiterate what we said ahead of our football coverage yesterday,” he said.
“I know you’ll all appreciate this is a difficult time for BBC Sport and for all those who work in the department and we hope it all gets resolved as soon as possible.
“It’s been a very difficult decision to make personally, I can assure you it’s not been taken lightly, but I’m a BBC staff member, I’m a radio commentator for this station and just like yesterday we are here to provide our football service to you, our audience.”
Those comments were echoed by the BBC’s football correspondent John Murray, who commentated on the clash between Newcastle and Wolves alongside Pat Nevin.
The former Everton and Scotland winger said he had only agreed to work as scheduled if he could have his say publicly on the situation.
“I’m a pundit but I’m also a journalist, an author, I’m my own person, and freedom of speech means you get to speak,” he said.
“There’s a dichotomy between free speech for us and due impartiality for the BBC, we know that, it’s where you draw the line. That line has been far too blurred for the staff and the public. Contracts must be clearer. It’s unfair on everyone from Gary Lineker to every match reporter.
“There must be debate and there must be consultation, not just edicts from on high. I happen to stand roughly on the same sort of hill as Gary Lineker but we have to understand, if we have stringent opinions, then other alternative and indeed opposite opinions would have to be allowed.
“That is not easy for an impartial organisation like the BBC to cope with. The future and direction of this possibly-under-threat institution could depend on this.”
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 was 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.
“(BBC director-general) Tim Davie is isolated in some ways, he needs to come home and grip this now. We need him back running the ship.”
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 Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany in a tweet, has prompted a growing number of its sports presenters to boycott their shows.
Lineker told reporters that he “can’t say anything” as they questioned him on the future of his presenting career when he left his home in Barnes, south-west London, to walk his dog on Sunday morning.
Among the questions he was asked was whether he had spoken to Davie overnight, but he provided no response.
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 former prime minister Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility.
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 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.”