The BBC’s Match of the Day program is set to be broadcast without presenters or commentators in the wake of host Gary Lineker being stood down for breaching the broadcaster’s impartiality guidelines.

Former England striker Lineker, who has hosted Match of the Day since 1999, has drawn the ire of right-wing commentators and UK government ministers for his social media commentary on the government’s asylum-seeker policy.

The BBC came under pressure from ministers after Lineker tweeted criticism of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s policy, likening the language used about asylum seekers to “that used by Germany in the 30s”.

In a statement, the BBC said on Saturday (AEDT) that it considered Lineker’s “recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines”, adding the broadcaster should “keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies”.

Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer sit in a sofa and look over their shoulders to the camera, in front of a wall of TV screens
Alan Shearer (right) is one of several Match of the Day analysts who have said they will not show up for work in protest.(Getty Images: Peter Dench)

The broadcaster said Lineker would step back until a clear position on his use of social media could be agreed on.

The move sparked an effective strike from other regular Match of the Day panellists, most notably former England stars Alan Shearer and Ian Wright.

“Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity,” Wright tweeted.

A host of other former players working in the UK media voiced their support, saying they would not step in for Lineker if asked.

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“Some of our pundits have said that they don’t wish to appear on the program while we seek to resolve the situation with Gary,” a BBC spokesman said.

“We understand their position and we have decided that the program will focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry.”

What exactly did Lineker say?

Lineker is no stranger to taking stands, even while on air, on social issues.

Gary Lineker smiles ruefully as he walks to his car
Lineker drew praise and criticism for saying some of the government’s language on asylum seekers was “not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ’30s”.(AP/PA: James Manning)

On the night of the opening ceremony at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the BBC chose to air criticism of the host nation’s human rights record rather than the opening ceremony.

“It’s the most controversial World Cup in history and a ball hasn’t even been kicked,” Lineker said on the Match of the Day broadcast.

The broadcast then showcased criticism of the tournament, including of the voting and bidding process that secured the hosting rights, and the 2022 World Cup’s carbon footprint.

But while that particular programming choice had the BBC’s blessing, Lineker’s recent tweets have put Match of the Day in turmoil.

Lineker quoted a tweet featuring UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman speaking out against boat arrivals in the UK, remarking: “Good heavens, this is beyond awful.”

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Responding to replies to the tweet, Lineker added: “This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s, and I’m out of order?”

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Ms Braverman labelled the comparison “offensive”.

“Equating our measures — which are lawful, necessary and fundamentally compassionate — to 1930s Germany is irresponsible and I disagree with that characterisation,” she told ITV, adding that Lineker’s future at the broadcaster was “a matter for the BBC and they will resolve that”.

The prime minister’s press secretary told UK media the remarks were “unacceptable”.

“It’s obviously disappointing to see someone whose salary is funded by hard-working British [licence fee] payers using that kind of rhetoric and seemingly dismissing their legitimate concerns that they have about small boats crossings and illegal migration.

“But beyond that, it’s up to the BBC, who I think have said today that they’ll be having a conversation with Gary Lineker, and it’s not for me to comment further.”

Who else has come out in support?

A number of high-profile UK broadcasters of different political persuasions have spoken in support of Lineker, including Piers Morgan and Jeremy Clarkson.

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“Gary Lineker off air is an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure,” the opposition Labour Party said, calling for the BBC to rethink its decision.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the move was “indefensible”, while former Labour MP for Battersea, Lord Alf Dubs, tweeted his support for Lineker.

“I applaud Gary Lineker for his compassion and support for vulnerable people, particularly refugees. Thank you, Gary.”

Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville, a commentator for Sky Sports, said the decision was what happened when “you take on the Tories and the system”.

The impartiality furore has brought renewed pressure on the BBC’s chair, Richard Sharp.

An MPs’ committee in February said Mr Sharp made “significant errors of judgement” in helping to facilitate a loan of 800,000 British pounds ($1.46million) for then-prime minister Boris Johnson.

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Mr Sharp, a former banker and donor to the Conservative Party, told MPs he “didn’t arrange the loan” but acted in good faith as a “sort of introduction agency”. The Labour Party has said Mr Sharp’s position is increasingly untenable.

I don’t watch British TV. What exactly is Match of the Day?

Match of the Day is one of the BBC’s longest-running shows, having first aired way back in August, 1964. The Guinness World Records lists it as the world’s longest-running TV football program.

Gary Lineker, Ruud Gullit and Alan Shearer sit in the Match of the Day studio
Match of the Day has been running since 1964, analysing all the day’s top-division football action.(Getty Images: Peter Dench)

Hosted mostly on Saturday and Sunday nights, it wraps up all the day’s action from the English Premier League with match highlights, player and manager interviews, then analysis from the program’s pundits.

Lineker has hosted the program since 1999, following in the footsteps of Des Lynham, Jimmy Hill and David Coleman. Its theme song was voted in a UK poll to be the most recognisable in the UK.

In the 2015-16 season, Lineker, a boyhood Leicester City fan, said he would host Match of the Day in his underwear if the Foxes, enjoying an improbably good start to the season, went on to win the Premier League.

Against all odds, Leicester did exactly that in a fairytale finish. Lineker lived up to his word, presenting the program in the opening week of the following season in nothing but Leicester City-branded pants.

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