ITV earn World Cup bragging rights as BBC and Gary Lineker lose out

Huge crowds welcome Argentina team after World Cup victory

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Gary Lineker and his fellow BBC colleagues have been left red-faced after it emerged that ITV claimed the bragging rights in terms of viewing figures over the course of the World Cup in Qatar. The entirety of the tournament’s live UK coverage was split across the two networks, although Sunday’s final between Argentina and France was simulcast on both channels.

The BBC showed two of England’s three group stage matches at the World Cup, while ITV were given both of their knockout stage games against Senegal and France respectively. The latter channel ended up pulling the highest number of average viewers, with 5.8million people tuning in for each game to mark a slight advantage over the BBC’s average figure of 5.7m.

The top three most-watched matches of the tournament were all on ITV, with a peak of 20m viewers watching England’s win over Senegal and 18m tuning in for the goalless draw against the USA across TV and online streaming. The network was also responsible for pulling the biggest audience on any channel this year when 23m viewers watched France beat England in the quarter-finals, a figure which represents around 34 per cent of the entire UK population.

Meanwhile, a total of 44m viewers watched ITV’s coverage of the World Cup over the duration of the tournament, although the BBC came up trumps with the highest viewing figures over the course of Sunday’s final. A peak audience of 14.9m tuned in to watch the coverage fronted by Lineker and Alan Shearer, with just over 4m choosing to view the game on ITV.

JUST IN: Neville lands ITV in hot water as rant sparks hundreds of complaints

Gary Neville, who spent much of the World Cup on punditry duties for ITV, was left delighted by the channel’s impressive figures and took to Twitter to congratulate his colleagues for all their hard work in Qatar. He said: “Fantastic numbers for @itvfootball and a great team.”

However, the channel found itself in hot water on Sunday due to comments made by Neville before kick-off in which he aired his views on workers’ rights in the UK and compared them unfavourably to those in Qatar.

“We should detest low pay, we should detest poor accommodation and poor working conditions,” said Neville. “That is something we can never, ever accept in this region or in any region and it is just worth mentioning we’ve got a current government in our country who are demonising rail workers, ambulance workers and, terrifyingly, nurses.

“We can’t have people being paid an absolute pittance to work, we can’t have people in accommodation which is unsavoury and disgusting. That shouldn’t happen here [in Qatar] with the wealth that exists. But it shouldn’t happen in our country, that our nurses are having to fight for an extra pound or an extra two pounds either.”

The outspoken pundit has since been on the receiving end of a public dig from none other than Rishi Sunak, who urged Neville to stick to football rather than politics while covering matches on TV. He said: “I think when most people are tuning in to watch Gary Neville they want to hear about the football and watch the football, they don’t want to discuss politics.”

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