BBC crisis escalates as players, stars rally behind Lineker

The BBC was forced to scrap much of its weekend sports programming as the network scrambled to stem an escalating crisis over its suspension of soccer host Gary Lineker for comments criticizing the British government’s new asylum policy. Presenters, analysts and English Premier League players rallied in support of Lineker by boycotting the airwaves on Saturday, as Britain’s national broadcaster was accused of political bias and suppressing free speech, and received praise from Conservative politicians. The broadcaster said it would air only “limited sport programming” this weekend after hosts of many of its popular sports shows declined to appear in solidarity with Lineker. The former England captain was suspended from “Match of the Day,” a popular soccer highlights show, after he criticized the government’s plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat in a Twitter post that compared lawmakers’ language about migrants to that used in Nazi Germany. Instead of blanket coverage on Saturday of the most popular league in the world, the BBC had no preview shows on radio or TV and no early evening summary of the final scores of Premier League games. Lunchtime TV program “Football Focus” was replaced with a rerun episode of antiques show “Bargain Hunt,” while early evening “Final Score” was swapped for “The Repair Shop.” “Match of the Day” — the late-night program that has been a British institution for 60 years — was reduced from the usual hour and a half of highlights and analysis to a 20-minute compilation of clips from the day’s games, without commentary or punditry — just cheers and jeers from the stadium crowds for a soundtrack. There will not be any post-match player interviews, either. The Professional Footballers’ Association said some players wanted to boycott the show, and as a result “players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with ‘Match of The Day.’” The union said it was a “common sense solution”