Gary Lineker’s hopes of remaining host of Match of the Day have been given a major boost by the BBC Sport executive who is quitting following the crisis that engulfed the programme.
Barbara Slater, the corporation’s director of sport who is retiring in the spring, told MPs relations with the star were “really good”, adding: “We love Gary and Gary loves the BBC.”
Slater’s comments to the Culture, Media & Sport select committee came eight months after the BBC was plunged into one of its worst crises when it took Lineker off air for publicly comparing the Government’s flagship illegal immigration bill to Nazi Germany.
It was Slater who presided over her department’s response to what became an unprecedented row over the corporation’s editorial guidelines, which saw Lineker’s fellow presenters and pundits boycott Match of the Day in solidarity.
The crisis threw the future of the programme and that of one of the BBC’s highest-paid presenters into major doubt. Quizzed on Tuesday whether she thought the corporation would keep him beyond a contract due to expire in 2025, Slater said: “I’m not sure it’s fair to ask me to speculate on an individual contract. But what I would say is I do think that there is a new set of guidelines.
“Gary knows those guidelines. You know, he understands them. He is supportive of them. And the relationships between Gary and the BBC are really good. And I think you’ve heard him: he’s said that publicly too. So, you know, in a way, we love Gary and Gary loves the BBC.”
It emerged this month that the Lineker crisis would not cost Match of the Day the rights to Premier League highlights after ITV declined to bid for them.
Lineker’s own future is directly linked to the retention of those rights, which the BBC and its flagship football show have held for almost two decades.
Slater’s public display of affection towards the presenter is significant given that she was forced to apologise to staff for the unprecedented fallout from his suspension, with sources telling the Telegraph at the time she looked “visibly worn out” from the affair.
A BBC insider also said it would be harsh if she ended up being “thrown under the bus” for a decision that had come from the very top and culminated in a humiliating about-turn from director-general Tim Davie.