EXCLUSIVE: Stephen Lyle emerges as the early frontrunner to become the BBC’s new director of sport after Barbara Slater announced she would quit in the spring

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EXCLUSIVE: Stephen Lyle emerges as the early frontrunner to become the BBC’s new director of sport after Barbara Slater announced she would quit in the spring

  • Barbara Slater will retire after 14 years overseeing the BBC’s sport output
  • Stephen Lyle has now emerged as the early frontrunner to succeed Slater 
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast It’s All Kicking Off 

Stephen Lyle has emerged as the early frontrunner to replace outgoing BBC director of sport Barbara Slater – who announced she would be quitting just six months after the Gary Lineker crisis.

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In a move which would see the former Channel 4 head of sport become the first person of colour to hold the role, which was created in 2000, insiders have disclosed BBC bosses are already discussing a replacement for Slater, who announced on Wednesday that she will retire in the spring following 14 years overseeing the broadcaster’s sport output.

Slater, a former gymnast who competed in the 1976 Olympic Games, came in for criticism for her part in the Lineker saga. She oversaw BBC Sport’s response which saw the Match of the Day presenter taken off the air for publicly comparing the Government’s flagship illegal immigration bill to Nazi Germany.

That decision, which triggered a backlash among staff with star names such as Ian Wright, Alan Shearer and Mark Chapman boycotting BBC programmes, was ultimately made by director general Tim Davie. 

But Slater, the first female to take the role, came under fire for the way the crisis was handled in a series of uncomfortable meetings with angry workers. 

Stephen Lyle has emerged as the early frontrunner to become the BBC's director of sport

Stephen Lyle has emerged as the early frontrunner to become the BBC’s director of sport

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Barbara Slater will step down from the position in the spring after 14 years in charge of output

Barbara Slater will step down from the position in the spring after 14 years in charge of output

Slater announced she would be quitting just six months after the BBC's Gary Lineker crisis

Slater announced she would be quitting just six months after the BBC’s Gary Lineker crisis

A snap poll, seen at the time by Mail Sport, saw 80 per cent of respondents rate senior management zero out of five for the way they handled the situation. 

There was also open incredulity at Slater when she claimed bosses could ‘not have seen how it would spiral’ after a host of pundits refused to work and brought the broadcaster to its knees after Lineker’s suspension. Amid a rift within the department, some felt Slater put the interests of ‘talent’ above rank-and-file staff.

Slater’s tenure saw the BBC lose the rights to a host of high-profile sporting events, including the Olympics.

The announcement comes in the week of her 40th anniversary working for the BBC after starting in 1983 as a trainee assistant producer.

Lyle, who had been series editor of Match of the Day 2 and a programme editor for Match of the Day and live athletics, rejoined the BBC in 2019 as head of cricket. Mail Sport understands that he was made head of football just last week following the departure of Steve Rudge.

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His return came after cricket returned to the BBC for the first time in 21 years.

Marking her exit, Slater said: ‘A career in BBC Sport has been an absolute passion, never just a job. Since joining I’ve been privileged to have had such amazing opportunities and the delight of working with such talented colleagues and partners. There are a huge number of people to thank, and so many magical memories to reflect upon. ‘

Davie added: ‘Barbara has had an extraordinary career at the BBC – a pioneer, innovator and outstanding leader – she has kept the BBC at the forefront of sport for a generation. I wish her well. She will leave the BBC with a tremendous legacy.’

The BBC declined to comment.

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