As somebody who would rather watch Gary Lineker’s adverts for Walker’s crisps than him playing football, I can’t say that, before last week, I knew much about him. The last time Gary Lineker made headlines was when he hosted Match of the Day in his underwear, after his team, Leicester City, shocked the nation by winning the Premier League, despite the bookings placing them at 5000-1 odds to do so. Twitter lit up with praise for Gary, and The Sun even claimed he ‘broke the internet’ in classic Kim Kardashian style after he stuck to his word and hosted the hit BBC show in his kecks.
Despite being a face most of us recognise, an OBE and holding the record for the most goals scored by an England player in FIFA World Cup finals, Gary Lineker’s compassion for refugees has right-wing newspapers out for his blood.
Gary tweeted in defence of the treatment of young refugees on Tuesday, branding the treatment of these young people “hideously racist and utterly heartless”.
The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What's happening to our country?
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) October 18, 2016
National newspapers including The Daily Mail and The Sun published articles that criticised those who supported the notion of giving asylum to a number of unaccompanied minors, arguing that without paperwork, the age of some so-called “child migrants” couldn’t be confirmed. Tabloids like The Sun had even published pictures of young refugees that used a facial recognition app to guess the ages of child migrants – and claimed some young refugees we’re adults posing as children in an attempt to illegally enter The UK. The type of rhetoric used was clear. “Refugees from the Middle East are dangerous.” “Britain should shut its borders.” “We have no moral duty to take in refugees.”
Although it is difficult to gauge the age of refugees who arrive in Europe with no paperwork, Gary was well within his right to tweet his support of the human beings displaced by war. Yet the backlash on Twitter was hugely negative. Lineker was branded a “leftie luvvie” by The Sun who subsequently splashed the claims “LIAR” across their front page today (21st October 2016). The Sun went after Lineker’s appearance too, branding him “jug-eared” and then published an article that condemned fellow BBC workers who supported him with the hashtag #TeamLineker.
Calls to boycott The Sun began circulating twitter, however an overwhelming number of Twitter users also were in agreement with the tabloid: Gary Lineker should keep his head down and shut up.
Twitter user @MxttPxrtxr tweeted in response to Gary’s tweet in which he claimed he was “getting a bit of a spanking” with “you deserve it, hope you lose your job”.
Another response to Lineker’s tweets came from twitter user @timbradley: “the jungle kids don’t look like kids – not racist to say so and you’re overstepping your mark as a neutral BBC presenter.”
There is a bigger picture here, if we focus not on The Sun-Lineker spat but actually on the issue at hand. Twitter users like @timbradley use their social media platforms to brand refugees “jungle kids” and then in the same sentence argue it is not racist to say such things. The implications that fellow human beings running for their lives from one of the Middle East’s bloodiest wars belong in the jungle, by branding them “jungle kids” is racist, by definition. Migrants from Australia, New Zealand or The United States would not be branded in such a way, and this is something that needs to be addressed.
The support for Lineker has been overwhelming. Twitter users have rallied around him and supported his views, but the reality is, the UK government are still sitting idle whilst thousands of unaccompanied minors from war-zones are homeless in foreign countries, and majorly at risk; shockingly, a handful of national newspapers agree they should stay there.
As the world’s fifth biggest economy, we do have a moral duty to help care for these young children, yet the reality is that the national press disagree. Gary Lineker’s words in support of refugees were brave, and started a fiery debate of what Britain should really be doing to help, despite The Sun’s fierce opposition.
The lottery of geography should not determine whether a child lives in fear or safety, and Lineker’s belief in this view caused the national press, in his own words, to give him “a bit of a spanking”.
However I stand with Gary, and I believe Britain should do it’s part in helping not just young refugees, but every human being who has seen and lived the consequences of the world’s wars.