Gary Lineker to Return to BBC Soccer Show ‘Match of the Day’

The BBC made peace with its most famous sports anchor, Gary Lineker, announcing a deal on Monday to put him back on television after a suspension that ignited a national debate over free expression and political pressure at Britain’s public broadcaster.

But the price of peace was high, and the aftershocks of the drama continued to reverberate, with a shake-up on the BBC’s board potentially looming.

Mr. Lineker will return to hosting the BBC’s flagship soccer program, “Match of the Day,” on Saturday, having been taken off for a Twitter post in which he likened the British government’s language on immigration policy to that used by 1930s Germany. His suspension caused a staff mutiny that plunged the BBC into chaos and Britons’ televisions into eerie silence as the broadcaster aired his show without commentary.

“Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary, and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend,” Tim Davie, the corporation’s director general, said in a statement.

The BBC, Mr. Davie said, would open an independent review into its social media guidelines, which had come under fire for being ambiguous and haphazardly enforced. That was particularly true in the case of Mr. Lineker, who is closely identified with the BBC but is a contractor who does not work in its news department.

Mr. Lineker did not apologize for the Twitter post that set off the storm, which government officials criticized as not just improperly political but also offensive in its diminution of the Holocaust. He even reiterated his strong feelings about the plight of asylum seekers that prompted his original post.

“However difficult the last few days have been,” Mr. Lineker wrote on Twitter, “it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away.”

The disparity in those responses drew anger from some Conservative politicians, who said the BBC had capitulated to its star. Some said it was high time for the government to end the compulsory public license fee that funds much of the BBC’s operations, a favorite target of right-wing critics of the public broadcaster.

Even those more sympathetic to the BBC said the agreement was a humiliating retreat for its management, which did not count on Mr. Lineker’s colleagues walking out in a dramatic, and destabilizing, act of solidarity.

“It’s a cave-in,” said Alan Rusbridger, a former editor of The Guardian. “They didn’t think it through, didn’t anticipate that Lineker would have such support from his colleagues. The only way out was the one they’ve chosen: essentially a fudge.”

Ending the license fee for the BBC is not a priority for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has focused his government on fixing the economy and has largely shunned the cultural battles that often engaged his predecessor, Boris Johnson. Mr. Sunak kept his distance from the standoff over Mr. Lineker, saying it was a matter for him and the BBC.

He also distanced himself from the chairman of the BBC’s board, Richard Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker with whom Mr. Sunak once worked. Mr. Sharp, a Conservative Party donor, is being investigated for his role in arranging a loan of 800,000 pounds ($973,000) for Mr. Johnson.

The prime minister told reporters traveling with him to San Diego on Sunday that Mr. Sharp had been appointed by his predecessor in a process that, Mr. Sunak added, he “had nothing to do with.” Mr. Sunak was in California to inaugurate the next phase of a submarine alliance with Australia and the United States.

The questions swirling around Mr. Sharp have made it difficult for him to represent the BBC during its recent upheaval. And the convoluted nature of his ties to the Tories have led some critics to demand that he resign.

“Richard Sharp’s position is increasingly untenable,” the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, said in an earlier interview with ITV. “I think most people watching the complete mess of the last few days would say, How on earth is he still in position and Gary Lineker has been taken off air?”

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute of Journalism at the University of Oxford, said the dispute over Mr. Lineker had “drawn public attention to the fact that the BBC’s governance has a political element. That is something that is going to linger over the chairman.”

Mr. Davie, who negotiated the deal with Mr. Lineker’s representatives, is in less immediate danger. He won an expression of sympathy from Mr. Lineker, who posted on Twitter that “he has an almost impossible job keeping everybody happy.” But Conservatives faulted Mr. Davie’s handling of the affair, and others pointed out that he had a role in drafting the social media guidelines now under review.

Mr. Davie, who was appointed during the government of Mr. Johnson, has made upholding the BBC’s political impartiality one of his major goals as director general. He denied that the broadcaster had capitulated to public pressure to reinstate Mr. Lineker and added that he had no plans to resign.

“We believe we did the right thing,” Mr. Davie said in an interview with the BBC. “I think I did the right thing.”

Drafting guidelines that satisfy everyone will be tricky, Professor Nielsen said, with some outsiders pressuring the BBC to force everyone with ties to the broadcaster to abide by the same restrictions on political speech as those who work in the BBC’s news department. That would hardly satisfy Mr. Lineker.

The BBC could find itself in another hot seat the next time one of its stars posts something that raises hackles — and Mr. Lineker is not the only opinionated figure on the BBC. Alan Sugar, a British businessman who hosts a BBC version of the American reality TV show “The Apprentice,” has tweeted against a former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whom Mr. Lineker has also criticized.

Mark Thompson, a former director general of the BBC who later served as chief executive of The New York Times Company, said the guidelines adopted by the BBC and other news organizations needed to grow out of a collaborative process, involving management and editorial employees.

“We should err on the side of freedom of speech and of the individual,” Mr. Thompson said. “The constraints we put on employees should not be unnecessarily tight. Hopefully, we will end up with a community of journalists with whom we’ve discussed these issues and agreed on the rules of the road.”

Mr. Lineker suggested that he was ready for such a conversation. “After a surreal few days,” he said on Twitter, “I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this.” He also thanked his colleagues who had supported him.

Professor Nielsen played down the damage to the BBC’s reputation with the public, noting that Britons’ views of the broadcaster were so well established and deeply formed that the furor over Mr. Lineker would fade in significance.

“For the vast majority of the public,” he predicted, “this might be something they chuckle about months from now in the pub.”

But among Britain’s political classes, where the BBC’s dominant role makes it both a lightning rod and a tempting target, some analysts said a new tempest would soon blow up to disturb the peace reached with Mr. Lineker.

“It’s a long war, and this is but another skirmish,” said Claire Enders, a London-based media researcher and the founder of Enders Analysis.