The decision to remove Gary Lineker from Match of the Day, following his criticism of the government’s asylum policy, has led to a mass walk-out of BBC pundits, commentators and presents – and it’s not the first time Lineker has spoken out about non-football matters.
The former Tottenham and England striker has used his platform to speak out for the less fortunate in society. While this has attracted criticism in some quarters, plenty of others have been inspired by Lineker’s stance on a variety of topics.
We’ve identified seven occasions where Lineker was the voice of the people.
As you’d expect from somebody who once played for Barcelona and speaks fluent Spanish, Lineker has always been an advocate of remaining in the EU.
“Personally I believe there are plenty of reasons to remain but barely any to leave. Love Europe, love being part of Europe,” he said in June 2016.
And the former England striker has been outspoken about the myriad failings associated with Brexit in the years since.
BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew once 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.”
Lineker joined those voicing concern after the Conservative MP David Davies and sections of the British media called for dental tests to verify the ages of child refugees.
“The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What’s happening to our country?” he tweeted in October 2016.
The BBC subsequently found Lineker in breach of its impartiality guidelines after he tweeted about the Conservative party taking money from Russian donors.
He made the comment in February 2022 while responding to the then-foreign secretary, Liz Truss. She had said English football teams should not play in the Champions League final, then scheduled to be held in St Petersburg, because of the invasion of Ukraine.
Lineker quote tweeted Truss’s demand with the observation: “And her party will hand back their donations from Russian donors?”
Lineker was criticised by a senior BBC news journalist, who accused him of breaching impartiality over comments in which he criticised the government for sewage being discharged into coastal waters.
“As a politician how could you ever, under any circumstances, bring yourself to vote for pumping sewage into our seas? Unfathomable!” Lineker tweeted in August 2022.
Neil Henderson, a BBC home and foreign news editor, later apologised to Lineker after telling his colleague: “The BBC lives or dies by its impartiality. If you can’t abide it, get off it.”
With all the controversy surrounding Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup, the BBC decided not to broadcast the opening ceremony and allow Lineker to address the thorny issue of human rights abuses.
Speaking before Qatar were comfortably beaten by Ecuador, the 62-year-old said: “Ever since Fifa chose Qatar back in 2010, the smallest nation to have hosted football’s greatest competition has faced some big questions.
“From accusations of corruption in the bidding process to the treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums, where many lost their lives.
“Homesexuality is illegal here [in Qatar]. Women’s rights and freedom of expression are in the spotlight.
“Also, the decision six years ago to switch the tournament from summer to winter. Against that backdrop, there’s a tournament to be played.
“One that will be watched and enjoyed around the world. Stick to football, said Fifa. Well we will, for a couple of minutes at least.”
Some people later accused Lineker of ‘virtue-signalling’, while others noted it would’ve been impossible to start the BBC’s coverage with anything else.
Lineker was among those who criticised the foreign secretary, James Cleverly, after he suggested LGBTQ+ football fans should be “respectful” of Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, if they visited the country for the World Cup.
“Whatever you do, don’t do anything gay. Is that the message?” said Lineker, quote-tweeting a journalist who reported Cleverly’s comments in October 2022.
Lineker criticised the government’s policy of stopping migrants from crossing the channel on small boats.
“There is no huge influx,” Lineker said on Twitter. “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.”
His comments were plastered all over newspapers and BBC News, overshadowing the actual policy. He was mutually consented from presenting Match of the Day, leading to a mass walk-out of pundits, commentators and presenters.