Gary Lineker row hits BBC’s Match of the Day 2 and WSL coverage | BBC

The BBC has been forced to scale back a second day of sports programming amid a deepening row over the suspension of Gary Lineker.

The corporation will air a shortened version of Match of the Day 2 without presenters or pundits after a mass walkout by BBC stars in support of Lineker.

Guy Mowbray, one of the BBC’s best-known commentators, said there would be “no normal” Match of the Day 2 on Sunday: “The scheduled commentary team are in full agreement with our BBC Sport colleagues. We hope that a resolution can be found ASAP.”

It came after the BBC cut back its coverage of the Women’s Super League match between Manchester United and Chelsea, and Radio 5 Live abandoned a two-hour Premier League show on Sunday afternoon.

The broadcaster is facing its most serious crisis in years after a series of high-profile presenters, commentators and pundits refused to appear on air because of Lineker’s suspension for criticising the government’s immigration policy.

The extraordinary walkout forced the BBC to drastically cut most of its weekend football coverage for the first time in recent memory. It came as:

  • The BBC chair, Richard Sharp, was facing growing calls to stand down over his ties to the Conservative party, as Labour and the Liberal Democrats said he was unfit to oversee the broadcaster during an impartiality crisis.

  • Lineker’s son, George, said his father would not apologise for his tweet comparing the language used to set out the government’s immigration plans to “that used by Germany in the 30s”. He suggested his father could leave the BBC at the end of his contract in 2025.

  • The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said the “whirling chaos” was increasing concern among BBC staff and inflicting “profound damage” on the broadcaster.

  • Mark Thompson, the former BBC director general, said Lineker appeared to have committed a “technical” breach of impartiality rules, but that the tweets fell into a “grey area” and had “kidnapped” the debate away from immigration policy.

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The mass walkout of BBC stars forced the corporation to axe most of the weekend’s prime-time football coverage. Football Focus and Final Score were cancelled, and Match of the Day was reduced to a 20-minute compilation of highlights without punditry or analysis.

Viewing figures on Sunday revealed that the Match of the Day audience remained relatively unchanged from the previous weekend, at 2.6 million viewers. The BBC apologised for the truncated show.

As the furore showed no sign of abating on Sunday, Labour and the Lib Dems led calls for Sharp to step down from his role as BBC chair over his close links to the Conservative government.

Sharp is at the centre of two investigations after he admitted donating £400,000 to the Conservatives and helping to facilitate an £800,000 loan guarantee to Boris Johnson weeks before the then prime minister recommended him for the BBC role.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said it was “ironic” that Sharp had been allowed to remain in post while Lineker had been suspended for criticising the government’s “stop the boats” immigration policy.

Reeves said the BBC had come under “intense pressure from Tory MPs and Tory ministers to get rid of Gary Lineker”. She told Times Radio that Sharp’s role was “pretty untenable”.

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BBC chair Richard Sharp should quit over Gary Lineker row, says Ed Davey – video

When asked on Sunday whether the BBC’s leadership was too close to the party of government, the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said it was not for him “to make those judgments”.

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Hunt rowed back from saying Lineker should apologise for his tweets, telling Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “I don’t agree with his comments and I personally think that he was wrong to say what he said, but I don’t think it’s for me to decide how that issue is resolved.

“If you believe in BBC independence, then it’s not for the chancellor or any other government minister to say how these issues are resolved.”

Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ general secretary, said the crisis had rocked the corporation and left staff questioning why Sharp had “ducked for cover” instead of “battling for the BBC and its reputation”.

She said the BBC had created a “wholly unnecessary crisis” in its handling of Lineker’s tweets. “This whirling chaos is creating profound damage to the BBC’s reputation, something that is causing mounting concern and frustration among journalists across the corporation. Freelance and staff journalists and presenters at the BBC have been put in a stressful and invidious position this weekend, with no sign of this crisis abating.”

Peter Salmon, a former controller of BBC One and director of sport, said the row was a “mess” and urged Davie to get a grip on the situation.

He said: “It’s complex and he’s [Lineker] a major figure. Twenty-five years in Match of the Day – he’s more than just a TV presenter, he’s a national figure. He’s got views, he’s got passions, he’s been involved in looking after Ukrainian refugees. It may be that Gary’s outgrown the job and the role in the BBC.

“Twenty-five years in – before that, Des Lynam – Gary took over, he’s been brilliant. Sometimes there’s a point at which you cross the line.”

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