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Soccer commentator returns after suspension for criticising government


London: Former England football captain Gary Lineker returned to host the BBC’s flagship soccer show on Saturday, a week after his suspension for criticising government immigration policy caused a row over the broadcaster’s impartiality rules.

Gary Lineker arrives at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, to present live coverage of the FA Cup quarter-final between Manchester City and Burnley on the BBC on Saturday.Credit:AP

BBC managers reversed their decision to suspend Lineker, the broadcaster’s highest-paid presenter, after his colleagues refused to work in solidarity last weekend, forcing it to air soccer matches without normal commentary.

The controversy shook the public broadcaster, which is funded by a levy on nearly all British households with televisions, and which often faces accusations of bias from across the political spectrum.

“It was a really difficult situation for everyone concerned,” Lineker’s co-presenter Alan Shearer said in a short statement to viewers before the start of the BBC’s broadcast of an FA Cup quarter-final game between Burnley and Manchester City.

“And through no fault of their own, some really great people on 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,” Shearer said.

A fan photographs Gary Lineker, right, before the English FA Cup quarter-final match between Manchester City and Burnley.

A fan photographs Gary Lineker, right, before the English FA Cup quarter-final match between Manchester City and Burnley.Credit:AP

Lineker said: “I absolutely echo those sentiments.”

Lineker, who has hosted refugees in his home, had been suspended on March 10 for a tweet that called government policy on migration “immeasurably cruel” and compared language used to support it to “that used by Germany in the 30s”.

BBC news reporters and current affairs presenters are required to avoid making politically partisan statements, though those guidelines do not generally apply to other staff or to presenters on freelance contracts such as Lineker.

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