The BBC’s director general says the damage done to football programming following Gary Lineker’s suspension is a “real blow”, but he will not be resigning.
Tim Davie said he was “sorry audiences have been affected and they haven’t got the programming” after presenters and pundits pulled out in support of Lineker, whose social media criticism of the government’s migrant policy led to him being removed from presenting Match of the Day on Friday.
Football Focus and Final Score were taken off the air, and it is understood that Saturday’s edition of Match of the Day will be limited to 20 minutes.
While not wanting to say whether he had spoken to Lineker in the last 24 hours, Mr Davie told a BBC journalist: “Everyone wants to calmly resolve the situation.
“Gary Lineker’s the best in the business – that’s not for debate.”
Describing it as a “difficult day”, he added: “As a keen sports fan I know that to miss programming is a real blow and I’m sorry about that.
“We are working very hard to resolve this situation and make sure we get output on air.
“I am in listening mode. I want to make sure that going forward we have a workable solution.”
Asked about BBC chairman Richard Sharp, who played a part in securing an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson, Mr Davie said he has no role in appointing the BBC’s chair.
“The way in which the board is hired and that role is a different thing to editorially me running the BBC,” he said.
Quizzed on whether Lineker would have been removed had he supported the government’s Illegal Migration Bill, Mr Davie said he was “not going to go through all the hypotheticals of the past” and that “we deal with these things on an ongoing basis”.
Earlier, the BBC acknowledged the “strength of feeling” among staff as programmes were axed. Presenters, pundits and commentators refused to appear.
Rishi Sunak has said he hopes the BBC can resolve its row with Lineker in a “timely manner” but the dispute is not something the government should get involved in.
In a statement, the prime minister said Lineker “was a great footballer and is a talented presenter”.
But the 62-year-old Match of the Day host’s dispute with the BBC over his use of social media is “rightly a matter for them, not the government”, he added.
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In his statement, the prime minister defended the new policy on stopping migrants crossing the Channel, adding that given the “seriousness of the issue at hand” it was important to “maintain perspective”.
He said: “Forty-five thousand people crossed the channel illegally in the last year, many of whom have been exploited or trafficked by criminal gangs, putting their lives in danger.
“We need to break this cycle of misery once and for all and the policy we set out this week I believe aims to do just that.
“It is not only the fair and moral thing to do, it is also the compassionate thing to do.
“There are no easy answers to solving this problem, but I believe leadership is about taking the tough decisions to fix problems.
“I know not everyone will always agree, but I do believe this is fair and right.”
Lucy Powell, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, said the PM was offering “weasel words” and trying “desperately to duck any responsibility”.
The row began on Tuesday when Lineker tweeted comments comparing the language used by the government to that used in 1930s Germany, when the Nazis came to power.
The BBC deemed the tweet had broken its editorial guidelines on impartiality and said Lineker had been removed from Match of the Day until an agreement could be reached on his use of social media.
Lineker did not answer reporters’ questions when he left his home in southwest London on Saturday morning.
The 62-year-old former England striker then travelled to Leicester’s King Power stadium to see his hometown club play Chelsea in the Premier League.