As an English soccer star, Gary Lineker was renowned for never having been penalized with a yellow or red card in his 16-year career. As a politically opinionated sports broadcaster for the BBC, Mr. Lineker has tangled regularly with the officials, and his suspension over a Twitter post on immigration this week escalated into a crisis that now engulfs the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Mr. Lineker’s standoff with the BBC has set off a noisy national debate over free expression, government influence and the role of a revered, if beleaguered, public broadcaster in an era of polarized politics and freewheeling social media. It came after a walkout by Mr. Lineker’s soccer colleagues forced the BBC to radically curtail its coverage of a national obsession, reducing the chatty flagship show he usually anchors, “Match of the Day,” to 20 commentary-free minutes.
On Sunday, the BBC was struggling to work out a compromise with Mr. Lineker that would put him back on the air, after days of controversy over his criticism of a government plan to crack down on asylum seekers. But the fallout from the dispute is likely to be wide and long-lasting, casting doubt over the corporation’s management, which has made political impartiality a priority but has faced persistent questions about its own close ties to Britain’s Conservative government.
What did he say?
But Mr. Lineker, who grew up in a working-class family in Leicester, has never kept his views on social issues a secret. When the government announced strict new immigration plans, he posted on Twitter, “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, and I’m out of order?”
Ah yes, defending immigrants, the greatest crime one can commit in a post-Brexit England. Not that the BBC becoming a bought and sold adjunct of the Tory Party will convince British voters to go for a different option, especially in Jolly Ole England.
Who runs the BBC these days anyway?
The broadcaster is compromised in other ways, according to critics. The chairman of the BBC’s board, Richard Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, is a donor to the Conservative Party who is being investigated for his role in the arrangement of a loan of £800,000 for Boris Johnson, the prime minister at the time Mr. Sharp was appointed.
Mr. Sharp has resisted calls to step down, but the questions about his ties to Mr. Johnson have made it hard for him to play the normal role of a chairman in a crisis, which would be to handle the government and opposition leaders, allowing the director general of the BBC, Tim Davie, to focus on the internal problems.
Mr. Davie, a former marketing executive who also had links to the Conservative Party, has come under fire for his handling of the dispute with Mr. Lineker. In an interview with the BBC, he apologized for the spiraling crisis, which forced the broadcaster to all but scrap two days of sports programming.
Trump couldn’t ask for a better situation.