Gary Lineker is back on the air to lead the BBC’s FA Cup coverage

LONDON — BBC presenter Gary Lineker made a reluctant return to live television on Saturday as he helmed the channel’s coverage of FA Cup football, but opted to extend his recent suspension over a tweet exposing the UK government’s migration policy criticized for not addressing them directly.

Lineker was reinstated by the BBC on Monday after the public broadcaster backed down and reversed its suspension of the former football star following a major backlash and major disruptions to its normal sports coverage last weekend.

Lineker, 62, a former England team star and one of the BBC’s most well-known presenters, was back in the studio alongside former teammates Alan Shearer and Micah Richards ahead of Manchester City’s FA Cup quarter-finals v Burnley at the Etihad Stadium.

“Alan, it’s great to be here,” Lineker said, his voice hoarser than usual, but he didn’t mention the recent turmoil in his opening remarks.

Instead, it was Shearer who addressed the situation after he and a host of other football pundits and commentators refused to work for the BBC last weekend in solidarity with Lineker. As a result, several football programs have been canceled and the popular ‘Match of the Day’ – featuring Premier League highlights – has been reduced from its normal 80 minutes to just 20 minutes of match footage with no commentary or analysis.

“I just have to clean up and want to say how upset we were (for) all the audience that missed last weekend,” Shearer said. “It was a really difficult situation for everyone involved. And through no fault of their own, some really great people on TV and radio have been placed in an impossible situation. And that wasn’t fair. So it’s good to get back to some kind of normality and talk about football again.”

PHOTOS: Gary Lineker back on the air to lead the BBC’s FA Cup coverage

Lineker replied, “Absolutely. I join those sentiments,” before focusing on the game ahead.

Lineker, known for his wit and frequent puns, had previously posted a photo from inside the stadium on Twitter with the comment, “Ah, the joys of sticking with football.”

Lineker was suspended after criticizing the government’s new migration plan – aimed at preventing people from reaching the country in small boats across the English Channel – describing it on Twitter as “immeasurably cruel” and using the government’s language as “not dissimilar to those used by Germany” in the 1930s.”

The Conservative government called Lineker’s comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some lawmakers said the BBC should fire him. The broadcaster instead said Lineker would “resign” until he agrees to keep his tweets within the BBC’s impartiality rules. But Lineker refused to retract his comments and critics accused the BBC of stifling freedom of expression.

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