The BBC had to scrap much of its weekend sports programming as it scrambled to stem an escalating crisis over its suspension of soccer host Gary Lineker for comments criticizing the British government's new asylum policy. Presenters, analysts, and English Premier League players rallied in support of Lineker by boycotting the airwaves on Saturday, per the AP. Lineker, the former England soccer captain, was suspended from Match of the Day, a popular soccer highlights show, after he criticized the government’s plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat in a Twitter post that compared lawmakers’ language about migrants to that used in Nazi Germany.
Instead of blanket coverage on Saturday of the most popular league in the world, the BBC had no preview shows on radio or TV and no early evening summary of the final scores of Premier League games. Match of the Day—the late-night program that has been a British institution for 60 years—was reduced from the usual hour and a half of highlights and analysis to a 20-minute compilation of clips from the day's games, without commentary or punditry—just cheers and jeers from the stadium crowds for a soundtrack. The BBC said it was "sorry for these changes which we recognize will be disappointing for BBC sport fans. We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak even weighed in, urging Lineker and the BBC to settle their disagreement. Lineker, 62, was a household name in Britain even before he became chief Match of the Day presenter in 1999. One of English soccer's most lauded players, he was the leading scorer at the 1986 World Cup and finished his international career with 48 goals in 80 matches for England. The latest controversy began with a tweet on Tuesday from Lineker’s account describing the government’s plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat as “an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
The Conservative government called Lineker’s Nazi comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some lawmakers said he should be fired. In his statement, Sunak doubled down on the government's plan to deter people from making dangerous journeys across the English Channel in small boats, saying it was the only way to “break this cycle of misery once and for all.”
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