Nicolas Anelka's long and sometimes chequered career in English football may have come to an end. The 34-year-old French striker has been suspended by West Bromwich Albion in the wake of the Football Association finding him guilty of making an insulting gesture that included a reference to religion when he performed the "quenelle" after scoring at West Ham in December.
However, the FA commission did not find Anelka was anti-Semitic, or intended to promote anti-Semitism. He was thus banned for five matches, the minimum tariff for such an offence under revised rules brought in this season in the wake of the cases involving Luis Suarez and John Terry. Anelka was fined £80,000, which is probably similar to a week's wages, and ordered to pay the hearing's costs, which may well be higher than the fine. He has also been ordered to complete a compulsory education course, following a two-day FA hearing conducted by a three-member panel headed by a QC.
The FA commission's judgement was welcomed by Jewish campaigners. Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews said he approved of the requirement for Anelka to attend education. "That's one of the most attractive parts. We want to educate people. Anelka said he didn't realise it was anti-Semitic, well, that kind of ignorance is dangerous," he said.
The Community Security Trust (CST), a campaign group which combats anti-Semitism and had criticised the pace of the FA's response, said the process had reached "a satisfactory conclusion" and the "verdict sends a strong message to Jewish players and supporters at all levels of the game that the FA will act against anti-Semitic acts if they are reported."
However, others felt the ban Anelka received was unduly lenient. Stephen Pollard, editor of The Jewish Chronicle, said: "I think what it shows is the FA clearly thinks that anti-Semitic abuse is a lesser form of racism than other abuse.
"Anelka stood in the middle of Upton Park and gave a Nazi salute. If the FA thinks there was nothing anti-Semitic about it, or at least that there was no intent, why are they sending him on a course? In case he makes further unintended gestures?
"The whole thing is ludicrous, they've given him the minimum ban possible, which is five matches, and I think it brings the FA into considerable disrepute in the fight against racism."
Anelka has seven days from receiving the written reasons for the judgement to decide if he wants to appeal. If he does his suspension by the FA will be put on hold. However, it would appear that the ban imposed by Albion would remain. This means if he appeals, and loses, the season could be almost over by the time the process is finished.
Whether Anelka, who nearly quit the game early this season for unrelated reasons, would then wish to play for Albion in those circumstances, or the club wish to pick him, is a moot point.
He made the "quenelle" after scoring the first of two goals in Albion's 3-3 draw at West Ham on 28 December. It was done, he said later, in solidarity with his friend Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, a controversial French comedian who has been fined for anti-Semitic offences.
Albion said it treated "very seriously any such allegation which includes any reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion and/or belief. Upon both charges being proven, the club has suspended Nicolas Anelka pending the conclusion of the FA's disciplinary process and the club's own internal investigation."
Albion added, while the panel did not find Anelka to be an anti-Semite, they could not "ignore the offence that his actions have caused, particularly to the Jewish community, nor the potential damage to the club's reputation".
The punishment: How the ban compares
The Chelsea defender was fined £220,000 and banned for four games by an FA commission in September 2012 for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand in a match, which Terry denied. The commission said it was "accepted by everyone involved in the proceedings that Mr Terry is not a racist".
The Liverpool striker was banned for eight games and fined £40,000 in December 2011 for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra in a game. A commission stated Suarez "used the word 'negro' or 'negros' seven times. On each occasion, the words were insulting". The commission also called Evra a "credible witness", while Suarez's testimony as he denied the charge was "unreliable [on] matters of critical importance".
Banned for 10 games for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic last year. A commission said it was its duty "to discourage players at any level from acting in such a deplorable manner".
The QPR midfielder was banned for 12 matches and fined £75,000 for elbowing Carlos Tevez, then kicking Sergio Aguero before attempting to headbutt Vincent Kompany in the final game of the 2011-12 season at Manchester City.
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