Nicolas Anelka gesture: With great footballing prowess comes great responsibility

The hearts of many are easily swayed by the actions of just a few talented athletes

Share
Related Topics

Is there a more powerful political stage than the football pitch? Fernando Maria Castiella, Franco’s Foreign Minister during the fascist’s dictator lengthy regime, certainly thought not.  “Real Madrid is the best embassy we ever had,” the Minister once said. It was no exaggeration: Madrid players were treated as de facto diplomats during the 1960s and 70s – often being sent out as government dignitaries to soften the image of Spain as a nationalist, authoritarian, anti-Semitic state. What Franco realised and capitalised on still stands today: the hearts of the many are easily swayed by the actions of just a few talented athletes.

Which leads us to the significance of a gesture made by Nicolas Anelka to celebrate his goal for West Bromwich Albion against West Ham United at the weekend: a foul, unfunny, Hitler salute in reverse. Known as the “quenelle” in its native France, the gesture has taken on a life of its own in the past two years, with video after Youtube video (see below) depicting montages of anti-Semites making the gesture at Jewish heritage sites from the Parisian Synagogue, to Holocaust memorial grounds, to Auschwitz itself.

The French player denies knowledge of the gesture’s connotations and the question now is how best to react. New FA guidelines meant to combat racism suggest that if the FA inquiry into the incident goes against him, Anelka could face at least a five-match ban. But many are calling for that exclusion to be significantly longer. Sports columnist Martin Samuel, who writes a column for the Jewish Chronicle, has suggested anything less than a 16-match ban would be lenient.

He has a point. It is a dull truism that 21st-century footballers are global celebrities with enormous influence, but one that needs to be remembered.  The Franco-backed Madrid players of the 60s and 70s may have held some sway on the world stage but it is incomparable to the attention paid to today’s most popular sportsmen.  Nicolas Anelka is a man with nearly 900,000 followers on Twitter. Compare that with the 300,000 following Labour leader Ed Miliband and the measly 68,000 following Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

Footballers have the ability to make a difference – be it good or bad. In 2007, Didier Drogba, an ex-team mate of Anelka’s at Chelsea, was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for the UN in the Ivory Coast. The year before he was credited with bringing about a ceasefire to the five-year-old civil war raging in his home country. The rebel-held North and government-led South were brought together by an international football match played in Bouaké, the capital of the rebellion. It was Drogba who proposed the match: suggesting that the country should set aside their weapons and come together to celebrate the Ivorians – from both the North and South – who were representing their country against Madagascar (Ivory Coast went on to win 5-0).

That is the unifying potential football has. And as we go into the year that celebrates a centenary since German and English troops made a Christmas Day truce to play a game of football, we should be wary of underestimating sport’s political power today. In contrast, Nicolas Anelka’s gesture was purely divisive – a moment of petulance against that spirit of communion which illuminates the best episodes of football’s history.

As those moments are rightfully celebrated, so this one should be rightfully condemned.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Special Needs Support Worker

£12 - £14 per hour: Recruitment Genius: We are looking for someone to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

£15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Sewing Technician

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This market leader in Medical Devices is...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Lily-Rose Depp is not 'all grown up' - she is a 15 year old girl who should not be modelling for an adult fashion magazine

Harriet Williamson
 

If I were Prime Mininster: I would legislate for abortion on demand and abolish VAT on sanitary products

Caroline Criado-Perez
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence