It’s not often that the words “controversy” and Gary Lineker appear in the same sentence. In fact the former England striker turned TV presenter has always had a reputation for being rather bland and, let’s be honest here, a bit boring. Not anymore it would seem.
Last week The Sun called for Lineker to be sacked from his job presenting the BBC’s Match of the Day. It wasn’t that Lineker had come up with a contentious interpretation of the offside rule or made critical comments about Arsenal’s latest away kit. His crime in the eyes of The Sun was that he had expressed an opinion which it disagreed with.
Last week much of the tabloid media, including The Sun and the Daily Mail, suggested that some of the child migrants being allowed into the UK were adults posing as children. Lineker said on his personal Twitter account that the treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. The Sun, as only it can, reacted by branding Lineker as a jug eared leftie luvvie for daring to speak his mind.
This whole affair concerns me on two levels. Firstly there is the fact that Lineker, in addition to his BBC work, also presents the live Champions League matches on BT Sport. There is no doubt that Sky Sports (which, like The Sun, is part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire) is seriously miffed over being outbid for Champions League games by BT Sport. It wouldn’t be the first time that the pages of The Sun have been used to further the interests of Sky Sports.
Secondly, there is of course the issue of freedom of expression. Whether or not you agree with Lineker’s views isn’t really the issue here. What matters is that he should be free to speak his mind on a subject which he clearly feels strongly about.
One final thought, the growth of social media platforms means that celebrities like Gary Lineker can now reach a much larger audience via the likes of Twitter and Facebook than they could by writing a newspaper column. Maybe what is really causing The Sun to be upset is the fact that the power of the tabloid press is clearly on the wane.