With a Football Association charge and possible police action looming, it’s hardly a surprise that West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka has agreed to stop using the “quenelle” gesture that French Sport Minister Valerie Fourneyron described as “disgusting” and “anti-Semitic” on Sunday.
“Anelka’s gesture is a shocking provocation, disgusting,” Fourneyron stated on her Twitter account, via the BBC. “There’s no place for anti-Semitism on the football field.”
The incident in question took place shortly before the interval of West Brom’s 3-3 draw away to West Ham, Saturday, and followed the first of two goals Anelka would score at Upton Park.
After beating Hammers goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen with a side-footed effort to cancel out Joe Cole’s opener, Anelka bent his left arm to touch his right in a combination of the Nazi salute and bras d’honneur and immediately set off a controversy that may well see him banned by the FA and investigated by the civil authorities.
As of Sunday night the Metropolitan Police were still considering action against the 34-year-old, according to the Daily Mail.
Hate crime allegations are taken seriously in the United Kingdom, and while Anelka’s native France has similar laws by which to prosecute such acts, it has so far demonstrated considerably less appetite for enforcing them to the letter—as exemplified by the several convictions of anti-Semitism Dieudonne M’bala M’bala (the “pioneer” of the quenelle gesture) has skirted in recent years, as reported by The Independent.
Dieudonne, as he is known, is a comedian and activist of the extreme right who has previously run for European election on an anti-Zionist platform and been quoted, via The Independent, making obscene, public remarks about “gas ovens.”
That Anelka’s initial explanation for the gesture was to honour Dieudonne is extremely disturbing, which is why it behooves the FA to come down hard on him despite his Monday back-tracking.
It was only two years ago, after all, that the body that governs English football imposed an eight-game suspension on Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, who had been found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra.
And while more than two months elapsed between the incident and the decision, it was in every way the correct one and should serve as precedent regarding Anelka, whose action was at least as reprehensible and rather more obvious in its execution.
Troublingly, we are already seeing a copy-cat effect.
On Monday an image of Manchester City attacker Samir Nasri performing the quenelle was published by various outlets, including the Mirror, and later the same day Tony Parker, a guard for the San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association, apologized for making the gesture after a picture emerged showing him alongside Dieudonne, as relayed by the Associated Press.
“Hopefully this incident will serve to educate others that we need to be more aware that things that may seem innocuous can actually have a history of hate and hurt,” said Parker, who was raised in France, in a statement.
He added: “It was not until recently that I learned of the very negative concerns that are associated with [the quenelle].”
Anelka, however, most certainly did, as his association with Dieudonne reveals. And as a result the FA should use all the force in its mandate to punish him.
A suspension twice the length as that assigned to Suarez would be a good starting point, and while Nasri’s gesture did not take place on the field of play he should be issued a warning at the very least.
If English football has taken positive, meaningful steps towards combating this sort of behaviour in recent seasons, now is not the time to suddenly become lax.