A history of Gary Lineker’s most controversial tweets, from Brexit to Russian donors
When Gary Lineker called the government’s migrant policy “immeasurably cruel” and compared the language around it to 1930s Germany, it sent politicians, pundits and Twitter into a spin.
There were calls for the BBC’s top-paid presenter to be sacked from the broadcaster over claims he breached their impartiality guidelines.
But the former footballer has said he will be presenting Match Of The Day on Saturday as per usual, suggesting he has not been reprimanded by the BBC.
In his original tweet, Lineker commented on a video of Suella Braverman unveiling the government’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats and saying the UK is being “overwhelmed”.
He wrote: “There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries.
“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.”
It’s not the first time the Match of the Day host has got in hot water over his political outspokenness on Twitter.
Here are some of his most controversial moments – and what the BBC rules say he should be saying.
The BBC guidelines
Gary Lineker signed a five-year deal with the BBC in 2020, under which he agreed to adhere to their updated impartiality rules.
The rules for news and current affairs journalists are very strict, with their personal accounts treated as if they are part of the BBC’s output.
Because Lineker works in the sports department, he has more freedom to express his own opinion, but under the guidelines must still “avoid bringing the BBC into disrepute”.
Brexit and Tories
Lineker is a vocal opponent of Brexit and in 2018 backed the campaign for another EU referendum, saying Brexit felt like it was “going very wrong indeed”.
At the time, a BBC source told Sky News that Lineker’s position as a freelance broadcaster, and a presenter who does not front news or politics programmes, means he was clear of the corporation’s rules on impartiality.
As well voicing as his Brexit opinions, he bemoaned “the absolute state of our politics”, saying “imagine how hopeless you’d have to be to still be behind the Tory party in the polls”.
BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew hit back, criticising Lineker for speaking out on politics.
He tweeted: “Gary. You are the face of BBC Sport. Please observe BBC editorial guidelines and keep your political views, whatever they are and whatever the subject, to yourself. I’d be sacked if I followed your example. Thanks.”
Lineker made a barbed reply: “Jonathan, I’m the face of my own Twitter account. I’ll continue to tweet what I like and if folk disagree with me then so be it.”
In February 2022, Lineker tweeted about the Conservative party taking money from “Russian donors”.
Retweeting a story about the then foreign secretary Liz Truss urging football teams to boycott the Champions League final in Russia, he added: “And her party will hand back their donations from Russian donors?”
The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) upheld a complaint and said Lineker’s post “did not meet the BBC’s editorial standards on impartiality”.
The ECU said Lineker was “one of the BBC’s highest profile stars” and said while not being required to uphold the same high standards of impartiality as its journalists, he had an “additional responsibility” because of his profile.
“We expect these individuals to avoid taking sides on party political issues or political controversies and to take care when addressing public policy matters,” the ruling said.
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Row over sewage
A senior BBC journalist questioned Lineker’s commitment to the BBC’s impartiality rules after Lineker tweeted about sewage.
He wrote on Twitter: “As a politician how could you ever, under any circumstances, bring yourself to vote for pumping sewage into our seas? Unfathomable!”
BBC journalist Neil Henderson asked Lineker whether he had a contract allowing him to breach BBC impartiality, writing “The BBC lives or dies by its impartiality. If you can’t abide it, get off it.”
He subsequently apologised to the former footballer and deleted the tweets. Under the BBC’s social media rules, criticising colleagues is off-limits.
Qatar World Cup
Lineker opened the BBC’s coverage of the Qatar World Cup with a scathing critique of the host country’s record on human rights and treatment of migrant workers.
The segment analysed the decision to award the tournament to Qatar amid corruption allegations and brought in pundits to discuss workers’ rights and discrimination against LGBT people.
Former BBC journalist Emily Maitlis – who was once found to have breached impartiality guidelines – compared that incident to the response to his recent tweets.
She quote-tweeted him, adding: “Curious that Gary Lineker was free to raise questions about Qatar’s human rights record – with the blessing of the BBC – over the World Cup, but cannot raise questions of human rights in this country if it involves criticism of government policy…”
In advance of the tournament, Lineker criticised foreign secretary James Cleverly after he suggested LGBT football fans should be “respectful” of Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, if they visited for the World Cup.
Responding to the comments on Twitter, Lineker said: “Whatever you do, don’t do anything gay. Is that the message?”
The time he didn’t speak out
Reflecting on his comments about the Qatar World Cup, Lineker said he and the BBC should have spoken out more during the World Cup in Russia in 2018.
There were calls for Russia to be stripped of the World Cup or boycotted in 2014 after it annexed Crimea and was blamed by the West for supplying arms to pro-Russian separatists suspected of shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.
“I think we were all going how great it was, and this and that and the other, and that’s how sportwashing works,” he said.
“We’ve seen what Putin’s done subsequently, but he’d done it before.
“I think looking back now in hindsight, I think we should probably have spoken out more.”