The BBC Sport executive at the center of the Gary Lineker crisis is to resign.
Barbara Slater, the club’s first female sports director, has announced she will retire in the spring after 14 years in the role and 40 working there.
The news comes less than six months since he presided over his department’s response to one of the worst crises to engulf the BBC after Match of the Day presenter Lineker was suspended for publicly comparing the government’s flagship law on clandestine immigration with Nazi Germany.
A former gymnast who competed at the 1976 Olympic Games, Slater’s tenure also saw the company hand over live and exclusive television rights to a number of major events, including the Olympics.
However, Lineker’s furor threatens to be his defining legacy amid an ongoing impartiality row which has seen fellow presenters and star pundits boycott Match of the Day in solidarity.
It was Slater who was forced to apologize to staff over the unprecedented fallout, with sources telling the Telegraph at the time that she seemed “visibly worn down” by the relationship.
A BBC insider also said it would be harsh if she ended up being “thrown under the bus” over a decision that came from the top and culminated in a humiliating about-face by director general Tim Davie.
However, other sources highlighted how Slater had in recent years taken an editorial direction towards “talent rather than journalists”. There was a strong feeling among some that the company indulged freelancers like Lineker who had different rules than staff journalists.
Part of that, according to one well-placed source, was turning a blind eye to freelancers’ social media output when staffers could expect “a rap on the knuckles” for far less controversial or political posts. “This has built up and come home to roost,” the source said.
Slater’s announcement comes as the BBC prepares to face the damning findings of an internal review triggered by the Lineker crisis.
Confirming his retirement plans, he said: “It was this week 40 years ago that I first walked through the doors of Broadcasting House. A career at BBC Sport was an absolute passion, never just a job. Since I joined the team in 1983, I have been privileged to have extraordinary opportunities and the pleasure of working with such talented colleagues and partners. There are so many people to thank and so many magical memories to reflect on.
“From being in the director’s chair on occasions such as Pete Sampras’ seventh Wimbledon triumph, to leading the move to Salford, seeing the extraordinary growth of our digital services and the excellence of new talent. I also hope that, in showcasing the brilliance of women’s sport, the BBC has played its part in changing attitudes, raising its profile and inspiring the next generation. I must also make special mention of having competed in the Olympic Games in 1976 and then leading the sports teams following the home Games in 2012. It was a monumental achievement for the BBC and everyone involved, as the United Kingdom hosted the sensational Olympics in London. . I will be following the BBC’s coverage of Paris next summer, this time as a proud sports fan.”
Paying tribute, Davie said: “Barbara had an extraordinary career at the BBC – a pioneer, innovator and exceptional leader – she has kept the BBC at the forefront of sport for a generation. I wish her all the best. She will leave the BBC with a huge legacy”.
Charlotte Moore, chief content officer, said: “Barbara has had an extraordinary career at the BBC and leaves a legacy that few will ever be able to replicate. She is a highly respected leader, a true trailblazer for women in the industry who can proudly say she has inspired the next generation.
“Barbara was at the helm of some of sports’ most memorable moments and united millions of the nation’s people. You have tirelessly driven BBC Sport forward in an ever-competitive landscape. She is a passionate supporter of listed events and free-to-air sport and her commitment to raising the profile of women’s sport in this country has been relentless.
“Barbara leaves BBC Sport in very good health with major rights deals agreed with Wimbledon up to and including 2027, the Uefa European Men’s Football Championship in 2028, the Olympics up to 2032, the Champions League and a bold strategy in place on how to bring these incredible sporting moments to the public through TV, sound, iPlayer and the website. I will truly miss working with her, but I wish her all the best in whatever the future holds.