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The BBC’s sports service plunged into chaos on Saturday as commentators refused to act in support of presenter Gary Lineker, who was suspended after criticizing the government’s new migration policy.

The 62-year-old compared the language used to launch the new policy on Twitter to that of Nazi-era Germany, which the BBC said on Friday was “a breach of our guidelines”.

The broadcaster said Lineker would “retreat” from presenting Match of the Day – a Saturday night fixture since 1964 and the longest-running football television program in the world – until it clarified its use of social media. does not agree on the position.

The decision triggered a wave of condemnation from hosts and co-hosts, who boycotted their duties for Saturday football fixtures, forcing the broadcasting service to scrap its scheduled programming across television and radio outputs.

Pundits and former England strikers Ian Wright and Alan Shearer tweeted that they would not be taking up their usual roles on Match of the Day, to be followed by the programme’s commentators.

Wright said in his podcast on Saturday that he would leave the BBC if Lineker was sacked for good.

The BBC’s move sparked a debate over free speech, as well as a wave of criticism from politicians and public figures, many of whom accused it of bowing to the demands of Conservative MPs.

“It is absolutely insane that Britain has become a country where having an opinion can cost you your job. If we do not cherish and fiercely protect free speech, even those ideas Even for those we personally loathe, we are no better than totalitarian regimes like China and North Korea,” said TV host Piers Morgan.

Labor Party leader Keir Starmer accused the BBC of “bowing” to the demands of Conservative Party members.

“The BBC is not acting fairly by bowing to Tory MPs complaining about Gary Lineker,” Starmer said.

Despite the growing crisis, BBC Director General Tim Davey said he would not resign.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the dispute was a matter of the broadcaster, not the government.

“I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in time, but this is a matter for him, not the government,” he said in a statement.

‘A giant own goal’

The BBC announced that the highlights show would air for the first time without pundits or a presenter.

It also said that players would not be asked for interviews as some indicated they would not be available in support of Lineker.

Weekend preview show Football Focus and results program Final Score were also pulled from the schedule due to the pull of presenters and pundits.

The Saturday sports schedules of BBC Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were also revised.

“We regret these changes, which we recognize will be disappointing for BBC sports fans,” the broadcaster said. “We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) described the action taken against Lineker as “large-scale self-targeting on the part of the BBC”.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stannstreet said, “To succumb to sustained political pressure in this way is as foolish as it is dangerous.”

Manchester City fans with a sign in support of BBC presenter Gary Lineker inside the stadium [Tony Obrien/Reuters]

Lineker is an independent broadcaster for the BBC, not a permanent member of staff, and is not responsible for news or political content, so is not required to adhere to the same strict rules on impartiality as staff working in the news.

The controversy was triggered by Lineker’s response to a video in which Home Secretary Suella Braverman revealed plans to stop asylum seekers crossing the Channel on small boats.

“This is an extremely cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable in a language not dissimilar to the one used by Germany in the ’30s,” Lineker, the BBC’s highest-paid star, wrote on Twitter.

The Conservative government intends to reject asylum claims by all irregular arrivals and transfer them to other countries such as Rwanda to prevent crossings, which totaled more than 45,000 last year.

Some 36 Tory MPs have sent a letter to the BBC warning that the case will “undoubtedly shake many’s already fragile faith” in the fairness of the corporation.

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