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'Gary Lineker will never back down,' son says, as Match of the Day 2 to go ahead in 'much-reduced format'
12 March 2023, 07:47 | Updated: 12 March 2023, 10:57
Gary Lineker's son has insisted that his father will "never back down" over a tweet criticising the government that saw him taken off Match of the Day this Saturday.
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Much sports coverage had to be cancelled on Saturday as presenters, pundits and commentators all said they would not take part in support for Lineker, who was taken off air in response to a tweet likening the government's migrant policy to 1930s Germany.
Match of the Day itself was broadcast as just the games without any commentary or analysis on Saturday night. Sunday's Match of the Day 2, usually presented by Mark Chapman, will go ahead in a "much-reduced format".
Lineker's son George, 31, said his dad would stay "firm" on the issue of refugees.
"Dad is a good man, a good human, and I'm proud of him for standing by his word, he told the Mirror. "That's why he was pulled off the show - because he wouldn't apologise."
"But he will always speak up for people who don't have a voice. He is passionate about helping refugee charities - he took in two refugees who he is still in touch with and trying to help.
"It means a lot to him to stand up for people whose only hope is to escape a country with only the clothes on their back. That's why he's been so firm.
"Will he go back to Match of the Day? I think so - he loves Match of the Day. But he won't ever back down on his word."
It comes amid growing fears of a "strike in all but name" amid presenters and pundits, as big name after big name stepped back from the weekends coverage.
Last night the head of the BBC said Lineker's return to screens is the best option, as he apologised for the weekend's football coverage blackout.
Director general Tim Davie admitted that the England World Cup legend is "the best in the business" and "a superb broadcaster".
He said that "success for me is getting Gary back on air", adding that he will now consider reviewing the corporation's free speech policy in order to attain such an outcome.
Davie also insisted he will not be resigning over the furore, which prompted a walkout of staff, pundits and presenters which made Match of the Day, Football Focus, Fighting Talk, Final Score and more impossible to broadcast as normal.
Davie added: "As a keen sports fan I know 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."
A silent 20-minute Premier League highlights show instead played at 10.20pm on Saturday, with the slot filled by Tom Hanks film "Sully".
A continuity announcer told viewers: "We're sorry we're unable to show our normal Match of the Day, including commentary tonight, but here now is the best action from today's Premier League matches."
Lineker courted controversy when he tweeted that the government's Illegal Migration Bill was 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 since-deleted tweet caused angry reaction from the home secretary, Commons leader Penny Mordaunt and more in government - as well as a review by the BBC which led to Lineker's suspension from the air.
Rishi Sunak said on Saturday night that the planned legislation remains "the right thing to do" and is a "compassionate" response to the record number of small boats making the perilous crossing.
The PM told reporters tonight: "I have to do what I believe is right, respecting that not everyone will always agree.
"Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a talented presenter. I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly a matter for them, not the Government."
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt told the Mail on Sunday he was surprised that Lineker had not yet apologised for the remarks.
He said the comments were "deeply regrettable", adding: "That was a completely inappropriate thing to say for a country that has opened its arms."
Earlier in the day, Lineker was pictured smiling as he watched Leicester host Chelsea at the King Power stadium.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told LBC Lineker had the "perfect right" to express his opinions and called for him to be reinstated.
His successor Keir Starmer also took aim at the government. He told reporters: "What they should be doing is standing up, accepting they've broken the asylum system, and telling us what they're going to do to actually fix it, not whingeing on about Gary Lineker.
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said the sage showed the broadcaster needed "to urgently protect its independence".
He added: "We need leadership that can uphold British values and withstand Conservative attacks."
Andrew Castle: Gary Lineker agreed his tweet was 'a step too far'
A BBC spokesperson said earlier Lineker had been asked to "step back" until there is "an agreed and clear position on his use of social media".
But a source close to Lineker said he had not agreed to "step back" and was instead removed as he is "unwilling to apologise for his comments" on the government's controversial asylum policy.
Following his suspension, MOTD pundits Alan Shearer and Ian Wright announced they wouldn't be appearing on Saturday's programme in solidarity with the presenter, with Match of the Day 2 presenter Mark Chapman also ruling himself out.
'Gary Lineker should be reinstated straight away': Jeremy Corbyn tells Matt Frei
Regular pundits Jermaine Jenas and Micah Richards said that though they weren't scheduled to appear, they would have sat out Saturday's show if they had been asked.
A BBC spokesperson said: "Some of our pundits have said that they don't wish to appear on the programme while we seek to resolve the situation with Gary.
"We understand their position and we have decided that the programme will focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry."