Gary Lineker has apologised after describing a prayer celebration by two Muslim Montpellier players on Wednesday night as "eating grass" on Al Jazeera TV.
The Match of the Day presenter was leading the Middle East coverage of Wednesday night’s Uefa Champions League games for sports channel Al Jazeera +3, when he described the opening goal in the 2-2 draw between Schalke and Montpellier from Karim Ait-Fana.
“A terrific effort from Karim Ait-Fana, who scored from just outside the area and then ate grass…as you do,” said Lineker, as the pictures showed the 23-year-old French winger and his Moroccan colleague Younes Belhanda, 25, bending down on their haunches and bowing their heads to the ground.
The Islamic prayer posture has become a popular celebration in recent times for players who follow the Muslim faith, including Newcastle United strike duo Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse.
Lineker’s comment immediately drew criticism on his own personal Twitter account, while Goal.com received complaints from readers accusing the former England and Tottenham striker of cultural and religious insensitivity.
The 51-year-old apologised in the early hours of this morning to his 1.1million Twitter followers minutes after he posted a picture of himself at his son George’s 21st birthday party.
“I’m sorry but I’m not aware of every player’s religion,” tweeted Lineker.
The BBC distanced themselves from the sports presenter’s quip when they were contacted by Goal.com on Thursday, saying the matter only concerned Al Jazeera, the channel he was working for at the time.
"It's a stupid remark and sheer ignorance," said Ajmal Masroor, a London based imam. "This is very unprofessional from a football legend who is supposed to be a role model.
"The fact it was on Al Jazeera makes it even more unacceptable. 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.
"I am stunned - seeing this makes me sick.
"He should apologise or be sacked by Al Jazeera. If someone makes the gesture of the cross and a commentator mocked them I would deem that equally offensive. Its not an outsider's right to belittle or mock players for making a religious gesture."
Al Jazeera were unavailable for comment.
Lineker's BBC contract allows him to anchor the English language football coverage for Al Jazeera Sports, which broadcasts predominantly to a Middle East audience.