The BBC has apologised to sports fans for having to cancel shows after more than a dozen presenters and commentators refused to appear.
The TV personalities are boycotting the shows in support of colleague Gary Lineker, who was told to temporarily step back from hosting flagship football programme “Match of the Day (MOTD)” over a controversial Twitter comment he made about the government’s new immigration policy.
Five shows are being affected on Saturday. Sunday’s MOTD has also been thrown into question after host Mark Chapman was missing from his two radio shows on Saturday and pundit Jermain Defoe said he won’t be joining the Sunday MOTD.
“It’s always such a privilege to work with BBC MOTD. But tomorrow I have taken the decision to stand down from my punditry duties. @GaryLineker,” Defoe wrote on Twitter Saturday.
A BBC spokesperson said on Saturday that the corporation “will only be able to bring limited sport programming this weekend” and will update its schedule to reflect the changes.
“We are sorry for these changes which we recognise will be disappointing for BBC sport fans,” the statement reads.
“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”
MOTD is due to go ahead on Saturday evening without a presenter, pundits, or several regular commentators after former Premier League strikers Alan Shearer, Ian Wright, Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Rowen, and Steven Wyeth said they won’t appear on the show.
Sport presenter Kelly Somers also said she wouldn’t appear on BBC on Saturday.
A spokesman for the Professional Footballers’ Association said in a statement on Twitter that they had “been informed that players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with Match Of The Day.”
“The PFA have been speaking to members who wanted to take a collective position and to be able to show their support for those who have chosen not to be part of tonight’s programme,” the statement reads.
“During those conversations we made clear that, as their union, we would support all members who might face consequences for choosing not to complete their broadcast commitments.
“This is a common sense decision that ensures players won’t now be put in that position.”
On Saturday, BBC One’s “Football Focus” was replaced by “Bargain Hunt” after host Alex Scot pulled out of the show.
Ahead of the antiques show starting, a continuity announcer said: “Saturday lunchtime on BBC One, now, in a change to the schedule, it’s Bargain Hunt.”
“Final Score” host Jason Mohammad also declined to host his show, which was replaced with “The Repair Shop.”
Pundit Glenn Murray cancelled his appearances on both shows.
Two BBC Radio 5 Live shows, “5 Live sport” and “Fighting Talk,” have also been missing their host Mark Chapman.
Writing on Twitter, presenter Colin Murray said there is no Fighting Talk (FT) on Saturday “for obvious reasons,” and that it’s a decision made by him and the “entire FT team,” adding, “Bob Mills was still up for it, to be fair.”
Pre-recorded content replaced the live broadcasts with The Kammy & Ben’s Proper Football Podcast aired during Fighting Talk’s slot, followed by The Footballer’s Football Podcast, which played on Radio 5 Live when 5 Live Sport would have aired.
Lineker did not answer questions from reporters when he left his home in south-west London on Saturday morning.
The government on Tuesday unveiled the Illegal Migration Bill, which will ban anyone who arrives in the UK illegally from claiming asylum.
Under the new law, illegal entrants will be swiftly removed from the UK to their home country or a safe third country like Rwanda. They will also be banned from reentry.
Lineker reacted to it on Twitter, calling it an “immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
As the state broadcaster, the BBC has strict rules so it can commit to achieving due impartiality in all its output.
The BBC later said Lineker will step back from presenting MOTD until he and the BBC have an “agreed and clear position on his use of social media.”
Former BBC executive Richard Sambrook previously told the PA news agency there is “a lot of confusion” around whether freelance broadcasters such as Lineker should be subject to the same rules as permanent staff in news.
Sambrook, who was director of news at the BBC and director of BBC Global News and the BBC World Service, said: “I think the language he used was unnecessarily provocative but the wider question here is whether a sports presenter in his private life has to be bound by BBC policies.
“Traditionally, the BBC would always want that to be the case but I think in the current day and age when we live in a world full of social media, when journalism broadcasters have the ability to go and work for other people or do their own podcasts and all the rest of it, that’s a bit of an unrealistic expectation.
“So I think unless the BBC recalibrates its relationship with freelancers, then this is just going to happen again and again,” he added.
Former BBC director-general Greg Dyke said on Saturday that the corporation had made a “mistake” and “undermined its own credibility” by taking Lineker off air.
Greg Dyke, who was the BBC’s director-general between 2000 and 2004 and an ex-FA chairman, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme that the precedent at the corporation is that “news and current affairs employees are expected to be impartial and not the rest.”
“The real problem of today is that the BBC has undermined its own credibility by doing this because it looks like—the perception out there—is that the BBC has bowed to government pressure,” he said.
“And once the BBC does that, then you’re in real problems.
Owen Evans and PA Media contributed to this report.