The West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka was slowly coming to terms on Sunday with the international row he provoked by his gesture in support of a controversial French comedian after scoring one of his two goals at West Ham. Anelka was said to be “gobsmacked” by the fallout, which included the European Jewish Congress calling for him to be banned for a gesture widely considered to be anti-Semitic.
Anelka sought to clarify his reasons for the celebration. “Of course, I am neither racist nor anti-Semitic and I fully assume my gesture,” Anelka wrote on Twitter. “The meaning of ‘quenelle’ is anti-system. I do not know what religion has to do with this.”
The Football Association, plunged into the deep waters of religion and politics, will not rush into a decision on whether he should be charged, which may not be known until next week. “It will not be fast-tracked, because we have to understand the full context,” a spokesman said. “We have rules about discriminatory language and offensive gestures and, if it was discriminatory, we’d have a position on that. But it’s not likely to be resolved within a few days.”
The FA regards the incident as much more complex than the middle-finger gesture for which Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere was banned for two matches after claiming Manchester City supporters had abused him about his children. The governing body has grown more sensitive to issues regarding race and religion, and only recently set up a new Inclusion Advisory Board, with independent FA board member Heather Rabbatts as chair, which meets for the first time next month. One of its aims is to “clarify anti-discrimination regulations and sanctions”.
Anelka is a good friend of the stand-up comedian known as Dieudonné, who has been convicted in the past of anti-Semitic remarks and has previously been pictured with the much travelled Albion player as well as Manchester City’s Samir Nasri, both players making the quenelle gesture. Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho, a Muslim like Nasri and Anelka, has been photographed making the same salute, but claimed he did not know the meaning of it and had been “tricked”.
It has been described as a combination of a reverse Nazi gesture and an obscene one. The European Jewish Congress president, Moshe Kantor, said: “This salute is merely a lesser known Nazi salute and we expect the same kind of punishment to be handed down by the authorities as if Anelka had made the infamous outstretched arm salute.”
Anelka said on Twitter that he was merely dedicating his first goal in the 3-3 draw at Upton Park – a match shown live on French television – to “my comedian friend, Dieudonné”. The incident was played down by Albion officials, including the caretaker manager Keith Downing, who like the FA found himself thrust into unfamiliar territory.
Downing, having recalled the French striker to the team after eight weeks’ absence, preferred to emphasise that he had found him “a good role model, [who] has conducted himself around the place properly”.
There was praise too from Saido Berahino, the young striker who scored Albion’s other goal and said of Anelka: “He is a quiet guy, a good guy, gets on with what he gets told to do and people look up to him because he leads by example, not just on the field but off the pitch he looks after himself. He is really humble. You’d never know he has been at all these great clubs. He keeps himself to himself and he is not one of those lads to show off, so everyone gets on with him because he is that type of guy.”
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