Gary Lineker said he is still “bewildered” by the “disproportionate” response to his tweet earlier this month which resulted in him being briefly taken off air as host of the BBC’s Match Of The Day.
Following a tweet posted by the pundit on March 7, in which he said the language used by the Government to promote its asylum plans was not dissimilar to 1930s Germany, he was taken off by the BBC due to concerns about impartiality, but returned to the programme following a boycott by top on-air talent at the broadcaster earlier this month.
When asked about the fallout, Lineker told The Rest Is Politics podcast spin-off show Leading: “I’m still bewildered by it. I think it was so disproportionate.”
He also claimed that the BBC’s director-general, Tim Davie, was aware that he was going to be actively speaking about refugees and the environment after new social media guidelines were introduced at the broadcaster in 2020.
Lineker said: “We had a discussion, and I said to Tim there are two things I’ll continue to talk up on, I will not back down, and he agreed, one of them was about the refugee crisis and the other was about climate change.”
He then added “obviously” theses issues include political ideas as he asked people to have empathy for refugees fleeing persecution.
Lineker also said he “loves the BBC” and it was “silly” the broadcaster had the response it did.
Pundits and presenters dropped out of a host of football shows in solidarity with Lineker which prompted two days of disruption to TV and radio schedules.
He also said: “When it first happened… it’s one thing saying that in a moment, but then actually to carry that through, they didn’t need to do that.”
In early March, Lineker tweeted about a Home Office video – in which Home Secretary Suella Braverman unveiled the Government’s plans to stop migrants crossing the Channel on small boats and said the UK is being “overwhelmed” – saying: “Good heavens, this is beyond awful”.
In a response to a social media user, the former England footballer then wrote: “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.”
In the podcast, the 62-year-old former striker added that this comment “was never meant as any kind of comparison with the Holocaust”.
Lineker also said that when he woke up in the morning after sending the tweet he had more than 230 WhatsApp messages, and thought: “Oh my god, what’s happened?”
He added: “I had really worried thoughts for a few seconds because I couldn’t think of what it could possibly be, and I thought either some kind of scandal or something happened to one of my kids.”
Lineker said he “didn’t mind” and was not “bothered” by the response to his Twitter comments and added: “It just kind of spiralled (in a silly way) out of control.”
The Rest Is Politics is presented by former Tory MP Rory Stewart and former Labour communications chief Alastair Campbell, and is produced by production company Goalhanger Podcasts, in which Lineker owns shares.
Following the fallout, Mr Davie announced a review into the BBC’s social media guidance “with a particular focus on how it applies to freelancers outside news and current affairs” which will be led by an independent expert, who is set to be appointed.
He also said: “Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this.”
Mr Davie added: “Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary.”