Nicolas Anelka faces an investigation by the Football Association after he made a gesture when he scored for West Bromwich Albion that has been widely interpreted as being anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist.
The veteran French striker, who is no stranger to controversy, returned to the Albion team against West Ham United at Upton Park after eight weeks' absence.
After scoring the first of two goals in the 3-3 draw, he is alleged to have produced a "la quenelle" movement with his right hand against his left sleeve, which has been called a Nazi salute in reverse.
It is the trademark of his friend Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, a controversial comedian who has been fined a number of times for venting his extreme views. France's interior minister Manuel Valls said on Friday that he was looking into legal ways to ban the comedian. "Dieudonné has been repeatedly condemned for defamation, insult and incitement to racial hatred," said Valls. "He is a repeat offender and I intend to act with the greatest firmness – under the law."
Albion's caretaker manager, Keith Downing, who cannot have envisaged that the job would involve such issues when taking over from the sacked Steve Clarke a fortnight ago, was forced to defend Anelka after the striker had spoken to him in the dressing room.
"Nicolas says it was dedicated to a French comedian who he knows very, very well, a friend of his," he said. "It's all absolute rubbish really."
Club officials have also insisted no offence had been meant, and the player took to Twitter to defend his actions, saying: "This gesture was a special dedication to my friend Dieudonné."
West Ham fans immediately pointed out on social media that they had been investigated for anti-Semitic chanting at Tottenham last season.
The French minister for sport, Valérie Fourneyron, condemned the gesture through her official Twitter account. She wrote: "Anelka's gesture is a shocking provocation, disgusting. There's no place for anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred on the football field."
Kick It Out, the anti-discrimination campaigning group, said they were looking into the gesture: "The campaign is in contact with partners in England and France regarding this matter and has offered its support to the Football Association in any forthcoming investigation."
Political football: When celebrations go wrong
Celtic v Rangers, January 1995
Paul Gascoigne was fined two weeks' wages for his "playing the flute" gesture when warming up before the second half of Rangers' clash at Parkhead. Television cameras screened him pretending to play the instrument – a Unionist symbol – in a manner which provoked Celtic supporters.
Liverpool v Brann Bergen, March 1997
Robbie Fowler endeared himself to the Kop by lifting his shirt to reveal a vest supporting striking Liverpool dockers after scoring his side's second goal in the 3-0 Uefa Cup-Winners' Cup win. The striker was fined SwFr2,000 by Uefa because players are prohibited from displaying any political logos.
Paolo Di Canio
Lazio v Roma, January 2005
Paolo Di Canio once characterised his political stance as "a fascist, not a racist" so felt justified in repeatedly displaying the "Roman salute" to Lazio supporters. After making the gesture during the 3-1 derby win, Italian minister Maurizio Gasparri said: "Poor lad, like all Lazio fans, he is not used to winning."
AEK Athens v Veria, March 2013
The midfielder was banned for life from playing for the Greek national team for making a Nazi salute after scoring the winner in a 2-1 success. The Greek football federation called it "a severe provocation" that insulted "all the victims of Nazi bestiality". Katidis, 20, said: "I would not have done it if I had known what it meant."
Croatia v Iceland, November 2013
The veteran defender will miss the World Cup after being banned for 10 matches by Fifa for leading fascist chanting following his team's play-off victory over Iceland in Zagreb. Simunic was captured on video using a microphone to lead songs which were found to have associations with Croatia's former pro-Nazi regime.
- More about:
- Department Of Domestic Affairs
- Jack Wilshere
- Josie Long
- Manchester City
- Premier League
- West Bromwich Albion
- West Ham United