Ian Wright has criticised the ‘racially driven’ abuse of black and female pundits after Sky Sports sacked presenters Matt Le Tissier, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas.
The three former footballers were familiar faces on Soccer Saturday each weekend for viewers, who tune in for live updates on the scores up and down Britain.
But a revamp has seen Le Tissier, 51, Thompson, 66, and Nicholas, 58, axed from their roles ahead of the coming season on the show hosted by Jeff Stelling, 65.
The likes of black ex-footballers Micah Richards, 32, Alex Scott, 35, Clinton Morrison, 41, and Sol Campbell, 45, have been suggested as their possible replacements.
But the changes faced huge criticism, prompting former Arsenal striker Wright, 56, to pull over his car and post a heartfelt video online people to stop their ‘racism’.
Wright said: ‘The racism is going through the roof today. Can somebody just answer me this: What does Micah Richards, Alex Scott, Sol Campbell, Clinton Morrison, or any other black pundit have to do with Sky’s decision to get rid of these guys?
‘All because three middle-aged white guys have got the sack. I kiss my teeth, say raasclaat and all that sort of stuff. What have they done, what have these guys done?
‘Because a black person or a woman might get the opportunity to do this job. They might get a chance to do this show. Why are people upset?’.
It follows a row in June over Black Lives Matter badges after Le Tissier claimed Sky bosses had asked him to wear one on air as the movement gathered pace and the broadcaster used BLM branding across its output amid efforts to improve diversity.
Le Tissier, Thompson and Nicholas were told during a meeting with chiefs yesterday that their time on the show was up, but ex-Arsenal star Paul Merson was retained.
Stelling tweeted: ‘One of my saddest days ever at Sky Sports with the departures of three of my best mates. They have been part of a team that for me was the best.’
Former Liverpool defender Thompson tweeted: ‘Enjoyed every minute with some amazing people on the show and behind the scenes which made it the iconic show it is today. Good luck to Sky, Jeff, Merse and the new gang on Soccer Saturday.’
As well as being regulars on Soccer Saturday, Le Tissier, Thompson and Nicholas often featured on the Sky Sports News channel to discuss topics and breaking news.
Sky has only so far issued a statement saying: ‘We are changing some parts of our football coverage – Matt, Charlie and Phil have done a great job for us over the years, and they will leave us with our sincere thanks and very best wishes.’
Former Manchester City striker Micah Richards shares a joke with fellow pundit Roy Keane before City against Liverpool in July
Alex Scott (middle) alongside fellow pundit Jamie Redknapp and presenter Scott Minto
Jeff Stelling, who anchors the popular show, described it as ‘one of my saddest days ever’
Ian Wright has launched a defence of Alex Scott, Micah Richards and other black pundits
Alex Scott responded to the video posted by Ian Wright with four love heart emojis
Richards said the insinuation of tweets linking him and Alex Scott ‘makes for some ‘uncomfortable truths’
Scott was trending on Twitter last night as many praised her as one of the most talented football pundits in the UK, but she was also hit with a slew of sexist tweets.
Richards also received the backing of fans thanks to his energetic and erudite views since hanging up his boots and becoming a pundit, but faced some abuse too.
Sky Sports ‘asked’ presenters to wear Black Lives Matter pin
Football’s return after the coronavirus pandemic saw attention pull away from the pitch, after Matt Le Tissier claimed TV bosses asked him to wear a Black Lives Matter badge during Soccer Saturday.
Speaking to MailOnline on June 30, Le Tissier said he was completely against racism but did not agree with some aims of the protest groups.
Matt Le Tissier said he would a Black Lives Matter badge (circled) on Sky Sports but did not support their anti-capitalism aims
He said bosses at Sky had asked him and other pundits to wear the logo for their appearances and he agreed, but pointed out he supported ‘the cause, not the organisation’.
Speaking outside his home near Southampton, he said: ‘I just don’t agree with some of the points of that movement – specifically the defunding of the police and the anti capitalist points are things I do not agree with.
‘They are the two main points for me. I am quite happy for them to have their point of view, but that is mine and that is where I sit. I think a lot of people in the country would agree with me.
‘I will still wear the badge because I do of course believe black lives matter. It’s a simple thing, I agree with the cause but there are parts of the organisation that I just cannot support.’
When asked whether pundits on Sky Sports had been told to wear the badge, Le Tissier laughed and said: ‘We were asked to wear it.’
Sky Sports said none of the presenters were obliged to wear the badge.
The ex-Manchester City star tweeted yesterday: ‘I saw I was trending today in relation to a brilliant and institutional Sky Sports TV show that I’ve never even been on.
‘The underlying insinuation of tweets immediately linking mine and Alex Scott’s names makes for some uncomfortable truths. Peace and love.’
Scott, who played for Arsenal’s women’s team, has become a prominent pundit in recent years, featuring on Sky Sports and the BBC.
Wright described Scott as ‘one of the best prepared pundits out there’ and praised Richards, who recently became a pundit after the conclusion of his playing career.
He said: ‘Alex Scott, for me, is easily one of the best prepared pundits out there. Easily. Micah Richards, the most exciting pundit to hit the scene in years. Keep their names out of your stinking unbrushed teeth mouths.
‘These guys, Matt Le Tissier, Charlie Nicholas, Phil Thompson, they’ve had an unbelievable run. It’s been a great show.
‘This happens to everybody in the industry. This is Sky’s decision to evolve the show, and you know what, I wish them all the very best.
‘Yes, you can be disappointed that it’s come to an end for those guys. But they’ve done brilliantly. But why does it have to be racially driven?
‘What’s it got to do with Black Lives Matter, or the fact that black people may get an opportunity to get those jobs? What?’.
Scott responded to Wright’s tweet with four heart emojis.
Former Southampton star Le Tissier was a hugely popular member of Stelling’s Saturday team, though has courted controversy several times in the past.
Earlier this season Le Tissier caused a stir when responding to comments regarding his and Sky’s public support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign, saying he would be evaluating his own personal stance.
Le Tissier says he was asked by bosses to wear the Black Lives Matter badge, but stressed he ‘could not support’ the cause’s anti police and capitalist aims.
The 51-year-old hit out at the movement’s ‘far-left ideology’ – as black footballer Karl Henry also branded the group ‘divisive’.
Earlier this month Le Tissier announced he would be temporarily quitting the social media platform Twitter, saying he had been repeatedly targeted by cyber bullies who were attempting to force him out of his job.
The Southampton legend had been outspoken on social media about various subjects including the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Some of the comments on social media were less supportive of Micah Richards and Alex Scott as the new pundits on Soccer Saturday
Micah Richards presenting a game at the Etihad stadium. The former Manchester City player has proved a popular addition the team with fans
Le Tissier broke his Twitter silence on Wednesday to thank those who he has worked with
Some Twitter users criticised black and female pundits after Sky Sports sacked Phil Thompson, Charlie Nicholas and Matt Le Tissier (pictured)
Nicholas, who had been on Soccer Saturday for many years, is among those who was sacked
In the wake of personal criticism, the retired playmaker released a lengthy statement detailing his position, before later going on to deny that he identified as an ‘anti-vaxxer.’
Le Tissier had wrote: ‘Yes I’ve made mistakes and errors of judgment in the past, which I regret, but I believe the good I’ve done far outweighs the mistakes.
‘I have huge sympathy for anyone who loses someone close to them by whatever health reason, I recently lost my grandad so I know how it feels.
‘You trolls and bots out there who try to belittle me with your snide remarks trying to make out I’m some uncaring individual who has no empathy, you couldn’t be further from the truth and I feel incredible sorry for you that there is so little joy in your life that you resort to this.
‘I truly hope you find happiness soon.’
A number of social media users were supportive of Wright, Scott and Richards
Long-serving pundit and former Liverpool captain Phil Thompson will also be leaving
Thompson said his 22 years on the show were ‘great’ and wished the show luck going forward
Le Tissier has since returned to Twitter following the news breaking of his departure, writing: ‘Enjoyed my time at sky sports, time to look forward to life’s next challenge, thank you for the support down the years and special thanks to the backroom team… good luck all have a lovely day.’
He later responded to Ian Wright’s video, saying: ‘Totally agree with you Ian Wright, excellent point well made, racism should be left out of this completely but from one middle aged bloke to another I thought I did a decent job’.
Thompson, Le Tissier and Nicholas regularly traded jibes with each other, while letting out instantly recognisable squeals of delight or anguish at goals or near misses.
It is now expected Sky Sports will bring in new faces for the coming campaign, in order to freshen up the popular football show and keep Soccer Saturday current.