Former France striker Nicolas Anelka has been accused of undermining efforts to banish discrimination from football by celebrating a goal in a globally televised match with a racially aggravated gesture.
Anelka performed the gesture, known in France as a “quenelle” and regarded as anti-Semitic, after scoring for West Bromwich Albion against West Ham during an English Premier League game in December.
Although an independent disciplinary panel backed Anelka’s insistence that he wasn’t being intentionally anti-Semitic, he was still found to be racist and abusive and was handed a five-match ban a week ago.
The commission released its written reasons for the sanction on Thursday, saying the gesture was aggravated by his high profile and its negative effect on football’s image.
“As for the promotion of inclusivity, equality and diversity, and in combating racism in football and society, he at least ought to have known that such conduct undermines those programs,” the commission’s report said.
The gesture Anelka performed involves pointing one straightened arm downward while touching the shoulder with the opposite hand. It was popularized by French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, who has been convicted multiple times for inciting racial hatred or anti-Semitism.
In Anelka’s witness statement, the 34-year-old striker said he became aware of Dieudonne in about 2000, met him once, and watched recordings of his shows. He said he made the gesture “purely to say hello to my friend.”
Anelka insisted, according to the commission, that he “did not know on or before 28 December 2013 (the day he performed the ‘quenelle’) of the controversy surrounding Dieudonne” and “denied knowing that the quenelle was (as was put) an anti-Semitic gesture.”
The disciplinary commission found the gesture is “strongly associated with anti-Semitism” but said it was not satisfied that Anelka “was or is anti-Semite or that he intended to express or promote anti-Semitism by his use of the quenelle.”
It is the third high-profile racism case in the Premier League in recent years after those involving Luis Suarez and John Terry, who were banned for eight and four matches respectively for racially abusing opponents during games.
The commission found that the incident involving Suarez, who repeatedly racially insulted Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, “was clearly a more serious example of an ‘aggravated breach’ than the (Anelka) case.”
Anelka has seven days in which to appeal against his ban. He was also fined 80,000 pounds ($133,000) and ordered to complete an education course as part of the FA punishment.