Community leaders have welcomed the guilty verdict against Nicolas Anelka over his quenelle gesture, saying it sent a “strong message” that the Football Association would act against anti-Semitism.
The West Brom striker has been suspended for five games and fined £80,000, the FA announced today following a three-day hearing.
The Frenchman performed the goal celebration after scoring in his club’s match against West Ham on December 28. Anelka denied the gesture had any anti-Semitic meaning and was a signal in support of his friend, the French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, the person who first brought the quenelle to prominence.
David Delew, chief executive of the Community Security Trust, said: “Nicolas Anelka has rightly been found guilty of introducing an ugly anti-Semitic gesture into British football. We acknowledge Anelka’s denial of anti-Semitic intent, but his action was clear and the FA’s zero tolerance approach to racism meant there could be no other outcome. This verdict sends a strong message to Jewish players and supporters.”
While some took to Twitter to condemn the fact the ban had not been lengthier, Maccabi GB expressed hope that the result would serve as a deterrent to others in public life and Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman said: “We welcome the fact that the independent tribunal has decided that Mr Anelka was very clearly in breach of both regulations.
“We strongly feel that any behaviour on or off the pitch with racist connotations should be addressed with zero tolerance and should be kicked out by the football authorities. The message that this sends out is that football, as a responsible part of society, will not accept behaviour that is offensive to any group.”
Anelka and a legal team have mounted a defence this week at an independent regulatory commission’s hearing at the Grove Hotel in Watford.
The independent regulatory commission said in a statement on the FA website that the two charges Anelka faced – that the gesture was abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper, and that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief – were both found proved.
The FA stated: “An independent regulatory commission has found an aggravated breach of FA rule E3 against Nicolas Anelka proven and has issued a five-match suspension and a fine of £80,000, pending appeal.”
Importantly, the commission added that it was their finding that Anelka had not been deliberately anti-Semitic.
The commission statement said: “So far as the basis for our finding on Charge 2 is concerned, we did not find that Nicolas Anelka is an anti-Semite or that he intended to express or promote anti-Semitism by his use of the quenelle.”
The JLC’s Simon Johnson, a former FA director of corporate affairs, said: “All those of us dedicated to defeating racism and discrimination throughout sport can take great confidence that, when put to the test, football’s anti-racism procedures stood up to the challenge.”
The decision was also welcomed by the All-Party Group on Anti-Semitism, whose chair John Mann said it “sends out a strong message that antisemitism, whether intentional or not, will not be tolerated in the UK. In using the quenelle, Nicolas Anelka gave antisemites in Britain a new tool for expressing their hatred.”
The punishment is suspended pending a seven-day period in which Anelka may launch an appeal, unless he decides against appealing, the commission said.