Lineker forced to say sorry for Muslim gaffe during commentary on Al Jazeera
- Pundit said players – who had adopted the Islamic prayer position – were ‘eating grass’
- Striker has apologised and said he was ‘not aware of every player’s religion’
- Comment has attracted criticism online
- ‘I’m off to the mosque for Friday prayers shortly. Or “eating grass” as Gary Lineker likes to call it,’ one tweeter said
Gary Lineker has been forced to apologise after accidentally ridiculing two Muslim footballers during a match commentary on TV.
When the players celebrated a goal by dropping to their knees and bowing their heads in the Islamic prayer position, Lineker said they ‘ate grass’.
The gesture is often used by Muslim players to celebrate.
He was commentating on Al Jazeera TV, which is mainly aimed at audiences in the Middle East and has a huge Islamic audience.
Lineker, who is one of the BBC’s biggest faces in sport, has a clause in his contract that allows him to freelance for the other channel.
The gaffe was made during Wednesday night’s Champions League game between Schalke and Montpellier when discussing the French side’s opening goal.
He said: ‘A terrific effort from Karim Ait-Fana, who scored from just outside the area and then ate grass . . . as you do.’
Viewers saw images of Ait-Fana, 23, and Younes Belhanda, 25, adopt the traditional Muslim prayer position, known as Sajda.
The comment attracted criticism online.
One viewer wrote on Twitter: ‘Lineker’s comment about Muslims [is a] very stupid remark and [one of] sheer ignorance.’
Another said: ‘I’m off to the mosque for Friday prayers shortly. Or “eating grass” as Gary Lineker likes to call it.’
One tweeter said the presenter had ‘no respect’ while another said his comment was ‘idiotic’.
According to football website Goal.com, London-based Imam Ajmal Masroor said: ‘The players are not asking anyone else to join in their worship, they are making a gesture in thanks to God – saying they are “eating grass” is outrageous.’
Prayer position: Montpellier’s French midfielder Karim Ait-Fana (left) and Montpellier’s Moroccan midfielder Younes Belhanda (right) celebrate by assuming prayer position
Lineker insisted he did not realise what they were doing.
The 51-year-old pundit wrote on his website: ‘I’m sorry but I’m not aware of every player’s religion.’
The BBC said it was not a matter for them to comment on.
The commentator, a former England and Spurs player, is facing a pay cut to his £2million-a-year salary at the corporation.
Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen has taken a £500,000 pay cut and Lineker is expected to do the same as part of an economy drive.
Last month he and his wife of three years, Danielle, headed to Los Angeles for a break.
Ouch: Gary Lineker leaves a Los Angeles spa with his wife Danielle last month wearing a plaster on his right arm after having a vitamin drip
Hols: Gary and Danielle were then seen getting into a flash black Mercedes convertible
Soon after arriving he was seen wearing a plaster on his arm after tweeting that he had had ‘an intra-venus drip.’
Danielle may have been sporting the same plaster but could have been hiding hers underneath her long-sleeved top.
‘Pick Mrs L up from spa. 5 mins later I’ve got an intra-venus drip pumping in vitamins with a doctor who looks like a serial killer #lalaland,’ Gary tweeted.
The former footballer was seen on his mobile phone as he waited for Danielle outside the spa.
The couple then jumped into their black Mercedes convertible, which they drove off in to carry on exploring the city.
Lineker split from his first wife Michelle in 2006. The couple have four sons, George, Harry, Tobias and Angus. The couple’s 20-year marriage was dissolved in 70 seconds.
A judge accepted that their relationship had irretrievably broken down because of Gary Lineker’s ‘unreasonable behaviour’.
In High Court papers. Michelle Lineker, 40, said the former England striker known as football’s ‘Mr Nice Guy’ had caused her ‘stress and anxiety’.
Miss Bux has a daughter Ella from a previous relationship to ex-Coventry City footballer Adam Willis.