BBC presenter Gary Lineker made a low-key return to live TV on Saturday as he led the broadcaster’s coverage of FA Cup soccer but opted not to directly address his recent suspension over a tweet that criticized the U.K. government’s migration policy.
Lineker was reinstated by the BBC on Monday after the public broadcaster backed down and reversed its suspension of the former soccer great following a huge backlash and major interruptions to its normal sports coverage last weekend.
The 62-year-old Lineker, a former star for the England national team and one of the BBC’s best-known hosts, was back in the studio alongside fellow former players Alan Shearer and Micah Richards ahead of Manchester City’s FA Cup quarterfinal against Burnley at the Etihad Stadium.
“Alan, it’s great to be here,” Lineker said, his voice sounding more hoarse than usual, but he made no other reference to the recent turmoil in his opening remarks.
Instead, it was Shearer who addressed the situation after he and a host of other soccer experts and commentators refused to work for the BBC last weekend in solidarity with Lineker. As a result, several soccer programs were cancelled and the popular “Match of the Day” – featuring Premier League highlights – was reduced from its normal 80 minutes to just 20 minutes of game footage without any commentators or analysis.
“I just need to clear up and wanted to say how upset we were (for) all the audiences who missed out on last weekend,” Shearer said. “It was a really difficult situation for everyone concerned. And through no fault of their own, some really great people in TV and in radio were put in an impossible situation. And that wasn’t fair. So it’s good to get back to some sort of normality and be talking about football again.”
Lineker responded: “Absolutely. I echo those sentiments,” before switching focus to the upcoming game.
Lineker, who is known for his wit and frequent puns, had earlier posted a photo on Twitter from the stadium with the comment: “Ah the joys of being allowed to stick to football.”
Lineker was suspended after he criticized the government’s new migration plan – aimed at stopping people from reaching the country in small boats across the English Channel – describing it on Twitter as “immeasurably cruel” and calling the government’s language “not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
The Conservative government called Lineker’s comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some lawmakers said the BBC should fire him. The broadcaster instead said Lineker would be “stepping back” until he agreed to keep his tweets within BBC impartiality rules. But Lineker refused to backtrack on his comments and critics accused the BBC of suppressing free speech.