Gary Lineker: 'The BBC and I should have spoken out more during the 2018 Russia World Cup'
Football presenter Gary Lineker has said he and the BBC were "sportwashed" during the World Cup in Russia in 2018, admitting that he still feels "uncomfortable" about the "mistake", but they have "learned".
Sportwashing refers to when an individual, group, organisation or country hosts sports competitions, or even owns teams, to distract from their controversial policies or activities.
The term increased in use this year ahead of the Qatar World Cup - as the host nation has been criticised on its human rights record, failure to protect migrant workers, and its anti-LGBT stance.
"I think we were sportwashed four years ago, when it was in Russia", Gary Lineker told BBC Radio 4 Media Show presenter Ros Atkins in an interview.
"I think we were all going how great it was, and this and that and the other, and that's how sportwashing works.
"We didn't talk perhaps enough about the other issues. So, it was deemed the right thing to do."
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There were calls for Russia to be stripped of the World Cup or boycotted in 2014 after it annexed Crimea and was blamed by the West for supplying arms to pro-Russian separatists suspected of shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.
However, the tournament went ahead as planned without much disruption.
Yet, when the opening ceremony began for the Qatar World Cup on Sunday, BBC One was airing a Women's Super League match between Chelsea and Tottenham instead.
When the channel began covering events in Qatar, the focus was on the allegations against the country rather than the celebratory tournament opener.
However, Lineker, who has been fronting the BBC's World Cup coverage this year, tweeted that claims that the BBC snubbed the ceremony were "not true" since it was shown "live in its entirety" online and on the red button.
"If you wanted to watch it, you could," he wrote.
When asked by Atkins if the BBC's approach on Sunday to talking about the broader issues around Qatar was in some ways a reaction to how the broadcaster covered the Russia World Cup four years ago, the TV pundit said "yes".
"I think we learned from what we probably felt was a mistake.
"The World Cup there, the streets were sanitised, everything was different.
"We've seen what Putin's done subsequently, but he'd done it before.
"I think looking back now in hindsight, I think we should probably have spoken out more.
"I don't have any feeling of mistake about this one [in Qatar] at the moment because of what we've done.
"But, I do look back four years ago still slightly uncomfortable."