NICOLA Sturgeon has called the BBC’s decision to stand Gary Lineker down from hosting duties on Match Of The Day “indefensible”.

Scotland's First Minister tweeted: “As a strong supporter of public service broadcasting, I want to be able to defend the BBC. But the decision to take @GaryLineker off air is indefensible.

“It is undermining free speech in the face of political pressure – & it does always seem to be rightwing pressure it caves to.”

The SNP chief spoke out amid major backlash to the BBC's decision. 

Alan Shearer and Ian Wright announced they would be boycotting Match Of The Day this weekend over the decision to stand Lineker down from the show.

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Lineker, 62, has been embroiled in a row over impartiality after comparing the language used to launch a new Government asylum policy with 1930s Germany on Twitter.

The announcement by the BBC prompted pundit and former Arsenal striker Wright to tweet that he would not be appearing on Saturday in “solidarity”.

“Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity,” he said.

Former footballer and pundit Shearer followed shortly after, tweeting: “I have informed the BBC that I won’t be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night.”

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Announcing the decision regarding Lineker on Friday, a spokesperson for the BBC said the broadcaster had been “in extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days. We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines.

“The BBC has decided that he will step back from presenting Match Of The Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.

“When it comes to leading our football and sports coverage, Gary is second to none.

“We have never said that Gary should be an opinion-free zone, or that he can’t have a view on issues that matter to him, but we have said that he should keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies.”

It is not yet clear who will stand in for him during Saturday’s edition of Match Of The Day.

According to Channel 5, presenter Dan Walker messaged Lineker asking: “What is happening. Are you stepping back?”

Lineker responded: “No, they’ve told me I have to step back.”

The National:

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Ex-BBC Newsnight host Emily Maitlis, who was herself reprimanded by the BBC for sharing a tweet the corporation viewed as “controversial”, said her former employer could now face a “much, much bigger battle”.

“I’m not sure when they suggested to Gary Lineker he step back from (Match Of The Day) the BBC realised it might be starting a much much bigger battle,” she tweeted.

Labour also condemned the BBC’s “cowardly decision” to stand Lineker down.

A party source said: “The BBC’s cowardly decision to take Gary Lineker off air is an assault on free speech in the face of political pressure.

“Tory politicians lobbying to get people sacked for disagreeing with Government policies should be laughed at, not pandered to. The BBC should rethink their decision.”