So he goes from the World Cup in Rio to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and next stop the Edinburgh TV Festival for Gary Lineker. Busy man.
Lineker is my latest GQ interviewee, the magazine out this week, and some of the media have picked up this morning on very strong comments he made about FIFA – corrupt, not fit for purpose, Sepp Blatter a dictator – and the ‘ludicrous’ decision to give the World Cup to Qatar (plus a few worries about Russia too.)
Lineker tends to keep his views to himself when fronting the BBC’s sports coverage, and has grown into a fluent and hugely professional presenter and anchorman. But he was outspoken on a number of areas, not least the state of English football. Though we did the interview before the World Cup began, we were confident enough in England’s lack of prospects to include something of a post mortem analysis before the event!
Most of those who have covered GQ’s press release having gone for his attack on FIFA, or in the Mirror’s case the comments on his own salary, I want to draw attention to what I think are important things he says in the interview about alcohol and gambling.
AC: Where do you stand on alcohol sponsorship of sport?
GL: Don’t like it. I have turned down deals with alcohol firms over the years. I do not agree with it. The other thing that worries me is all the betting advertising and sponsorship in sport. All you ever see is commercials for gambling and apps, it is really dangerous, and I think we need to do something about both of them, alcohol and gambling. Gambling is just too easy to do now, and as a parent I worry about it, all those ads bombarding you with in-play betting.
In its own way, I think this is easily as newsworthy as him saying what he said about FIFA, which kind of confirmed what we probably thought he thought anyway. David Beckham having recently become the latest sporting figure to get into bed with an alcohol firm – I actually thought that went badly against the Beckham brand – and any number of sports stars past and present now hawking themselves to promote the football gambling explosion, I think Lineker deserves credit: both for turning down cash to promote booze in the past, and for drawing attention to the bombardment of gambling ads which now scream endlessly during TV coverage of sport, especially football.
Those on the commercial side of the TV fence will say it is easier done by a presenter who takes a good salary from the licence-funded, ad-free BBC. But it was interesting, when I was doing interviews on my novel about an alcoholic teenager a few months ago, My Name Is, that both Andy Gray and Richard Keys, ex of Sky, now with Talksport and beIN Sport in Qatar, said that alcohol advertising and sponsorship had no place in sport.
This is an issue whose time is coming. In France, the Heineken Cup is known as the H Cup because of restrictions. In Russia, Vladimir Putin has done a lot wrong, but his government has also realised the link between sport and alcohol is a damaging one, and taken steps to break it. From Ireland to South Africa, others are looking at it.
In the Commonwealth Games, we have seen once more the huge and positive role sport can play with regard to health and community cohesion. As David Cameron enjoyed the closing ceremony, I hope that he reflected that sport is a health policy, an education policy, a crime policy. All those positive messages are endangered when drowned out by messages about the normalisation of alcohol and gambling. Lineker was speaking as much as a parent as a sports star turned TV presenter. As the Premier League football season starts, parents in the Cabinet and shadow cabinet might start counting how many alcohol and gambling references now surround the coverage of our most popular sport, and do something about it.
If the BBC’s main frontman can speak out, so can they. More than that, they can make the changes needed to do something about it.