- Andre Roden-Paul and Sean Seddon
- BBC News
For many years, Gary Lineker has been one of the sport’s most recognizable faces, both on the football pitch and on television.
Last week saw the presenter of the BBC’s Match of the Day program broadcast on Saturday once again move to the front pages, after his criticism of the government’s plans for asylum seekers sparked a debate over the BBC’s impartiality.
The 62-year-old former player is one of the most prominent figures associated with the BBC and is part of the UK football scene.
He took over as BBC Football’s flagship presenter in 1999 after an illustrious career as a striker for England, Leicester City, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur in England and FC Barcelona in Spain, a career that he concluded in Japan.
One of the BBC’s highest-paid presenters, Lineker is one of the faces of the BBC and has not shied away from using his high profile to express his political views.
His outspoken stance on contentious issues has won him both criticism and plaudits, and has sometimes caused trouble for the BBC leadership.
The BBC is impartial, which means that staff and stars are expected to adhere to guidelines for expressing political views in BBC productions and on their social media accounts.
But Lineker, who is technically a freelancer and not an employee of the BBC, did not always hold his tongue.
In 2022, he tweeted about urging then-Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to boycott the Champions League final in Russia. Lineker asked, “Will her party hand over the donations it received from Russian donors?”
This led to a complaint against him, upheld by the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit, which ultimately concluded that as “one of the BBC’s leading stars”, he had not met the corporation’s editorial standards on impartiality.
In 2018, Lineker posted on his account on the social networking site Twitter a series of tweets in which the Conservatives held a vote of no confidence in Theresa May, who was then prime minister, and indirectly criticized the leader of the Labor Party at the time, Jeremy Corbyn.
Two years earlier, the former soccer star had criticized some in the media for being “obscenely and absolutely heartlessly racist” towards refugees.
Lineker has taken refugees into his home and has spoken passionately about the need to protect people who come to the country in need.
Despite criticism from politicians, some in the media, and colleagues, Lineker has steadfastly defended his right to speak out on issues that matter to him to his nearly 8.7 million Twitter followers.
A tweet targeting Jonathan Agnew, the BBC cricket presenter who criticized Lineker’s political posts in 2018, summed up his approach. The former football star wrote on his account on the social networking site Twitter, tweeting: “I will continue to tweet what I like, and if people disagree with me, so be it.”
This week, Lineker sparked a political debate that is still interacting with a tweet on his account on the social networking site Twitter, in which he commented on the government’s new illegal immigration bill, which he described as “an immeasurably harsh policy targeting the most vulnerable people in a language that is no different from that of Germany used it in the 1930s.
Responding to critics of his comments, Lineker said: “He will continue to try and speak up for those poor souls who have no voice.”
For its part, the BBC said that when it comes to leading its football and sports coverage, Lineker is “second to none”.
But the BBC added: “We consider his recent activity on social media to be a breach of our guidelines, and he should walk away from taking sides in partisan political issues or political controversies.”
Lineker has previously argued that he can give his opinion because he is a freelancer and, moreover, he works for BBC Sport away from the inevitably more sensitive political news.
But critics point to the £1.35m paid to him by the BBC in 2021/22, making him the highest-paid broadcaster whose salary must be disclosed, although that does not include famous faces hired by private production companies.
Critics also argue that his Twitter platform comes from his work at the BBC, and so he must follow the BBC’s rules.
The BBC has contracted with Lineker until 2025, and in addition to presenting the “Match of the Day” program every Saturday, he also presents the BBC’s coverage of major football tournaments, and participates in presenting the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Lineker also works as a presenter for LaLiga TV, which covers football in Spain for viewers in Britain and Ireland.
The media company he co-founded, the Goal Hanger Podcast, also produces The Rest is Politics, a regular political debate program featuring Alastair Campbell, former spokesman for former Labor prime minister Tony Blair, and former Conservative minister Rory Stewart.
Lineker has also worked for other media organisations, including presenting the UEFA Champions League for BT Sport, and is also widely known as the face of Walker’s Crisps, a company founded in his hometown of Leicester.
Before taking to the airwaves, Lineker first made his name with his local club, Leicester City in 1978.
His goalscoring habits continued after he moved to Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, topping the scoring charts for both teams in the First Division, the English football league before the creation of the Premier League.
Lineker made his England debut in 1984, playing 80 times for his country, and the last time in 1992.
Only three Englishmen have succeeded in surpassing his tally of 48 international goals
He retired from the game in 1994, and he never received a yellow card in his entire footballing career, and he was enshrined in the English Football Hall of Fame.
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