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West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka was charged by the English Football Association on Tuesday for performing a gesture considered to be anti-Semitic while celebrating a goal. The former France international has until Thursday to respond to the charge, and is facing a minimum five-game Premier League ban under the FA’s anti-discrimination sanctions. West Brom said Anelka is now “considering his options”, adding that its internal inquiry will conclude when the FA process is over.
The gesture, which is known in France as a “quenelle” and has been described as an “inverted Nazi salute”, involves pointing one straightened arm downward while touching the shoulder with the opposite hand. It was popularised by a French comedian whose performances are considered anti-Semitic. Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala denies anti-Semitism claims, but he has been convicted multiple times for inciting racial hatred or anti-Semitism. Dieudonne agreed to abandon a controversial show banned in several French cities after angering the government.
Anti-racism group Kick It Out said the FA has “spent a longer time than desirable” before charging Anelka over the incident in the globally-televised match against West Ham on December 28. Anelka said after the West Ham game that the gesture was meant to show support for Dieudonne, and it was “anti-system” rather than anti-Semitic.
While accepting that Anelka is not anti-Semitic, Britain’s Jewish security organisation warned Tuesday that the “quenelle” could be directed at Jews more as a result of its use in a match. “Anelka has introduced a very ugly phenomenon into British football,” the Community Security Trust said.
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Anelka has apologised. “Anelka made a gesture which was abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper,” the FA said in a statement. “It is further alleged that this is an aggravated breach … that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief.”
The FA introduced a minimum five-game ban for racism last year in the wake of high-profile cases that saw Liverpool striker Luis Suarez suspended for eight games and Chelsea’s John Terry for four. A three-person FA independent regulatory commission will deal with the case and the European Jewish Congress is demanding “the strongest punishment possible”.
“The FA must send a very strong message that offenses made against the Jewish community should be treated in the same away as offenses against any other minority,” EJC President Moshe Kantor said.