Gary Lineker privately agreed that his tweet at the centre of the crisis engulfing the BBC was a “step too far”, a fellow broadcaster has claimed.
The BBC’s sports schedule was plunged into a second day of disarray on Sunday, with “much reduced” coverage expected on several shows as presenters, pundits and commentators continued their mutiny in solidarity with Lineker.
The presenter was told by BBC bosses on Friday to “step back” from presenting Match of the Day after he compared the government’s language on asylum to Germany in the 1930s on Twitter.
But as a freelancer not bound by the same rules as full-time staff journalists, the BBC fears it cannot sack Lineker or force him to follow social media rules because of ambiguities in his contract.
However, LBC presenter and former tennis star Andrew Castle has now claimed that Lineker privately conceded to him on Thursday that his remarks on Twitter had crossed a line.
“I was with Gary Lineker for half a day, plus, on Thursday, I was working with him. His phone was going absolutely mad,” Castle told LBC listeners on Saturday morning.
“I said to him, that I thought to draw the parallels between, you know, the rise of Nazism in the 30s and early 30s government and the immigration policy of a serving Conservative Party was a step too far and he agreed.”
Castle added: “If he was to apologise, then fine, I suspect he could go back on air but it’s gone a little bit too far for that.
“And let me just say this – how badly does Gary Lineker need the BBC right now? The guy’s absolutely loaded, he’s making himself fantastically popular amongst a lot of people.”
The Independent has approached Lineker’s representation for comment.
On Tuesday, Lineker commented on a Twitter video put out by home secretary Suella Braverman, in which she unveiled government plans to stop migrant boats crossing the Channel.
Lineker said: “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.”
As a result of the row, Saturday’s episode Match of the Day – which Lineker has presented for nearly a quarter of a century – lasted “just 20 minutes”, with no presenter, pundits, commentary or interviews, with Football Focus, Final Score and 5 Live Sport also pulled from air on Saturday.
The crisis has also reignited calls for BBC chair Richard Sharp to resign over questions of his impartiality, with former BBC senior executive Roger Bolton the latest figure to allege that he is compromised by the scandal over his role in facilitating an £800,000 loan for then-prime minister Boris Johnson.
“The very fact that he can’t speak out on the subject and defend the BBC and define impartiality, as the chairman of the BBC, means he can’t do his job,” Mr Bolton told GB News.
Labour former sports secretary Chris Smith warned on Saturday that “the BBC are making a huge mistake”, telling The Independent: “They are kowtowing to instructions from Tory MPs, government ministers and the right-wing press. They really ought to see sense and find a suitable way of backing down.”
The BBC apologised for its limited sports programming on Saturday and insisted that it was “working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon”.
In a previous statement, the BBC said it had been “in extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days”, adding: “We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines.”
They continued: “The BBC has decided that he will step back from presenting Match Of The Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media. When it comes to leading our football and sports coverage, Gary is second to none.
“We have never said that Gary should be an opinion-free zone, or that he can’t have a view on issues that matter to him, but we have said that he should keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies.”