British football authorities have hired an academic expert to advise them on the controversial ‘quenelle’ sign performed by French footballer Nicolas Anelka during a Premier League match last month.

The gesture, whereby one arm is held straight down the body and the other reaches across to the shoulder, is described as “an inverted Nazi salute” but was largely unknown in the UK until recently.

Anelka making his shocking goal celebration gesture.

Anelka making his shocking goal celebration gesture.

Jewish organisations have reacted strongly to what they consider to be a race hate sign, first popularised on the continent by a French comedian whose views are widely described as anti-Semitic.

French ministers have come down strongly on the comedian, sports stars and others accused of perpetuating the trend, which the Interior Minister referred to as “disgusting”.

A statement from the Football Association read: “We are working with an appointed expert regarding the salient issues related to the quenelle gesture.”

Officials added that the investigation was ongoing and there would be no further announcement until next week at the earliest.

Anelka, 34, performed the salute after scoring for West Brom at the end of December and later pledged not to do so again. However, calls for him to receive a lengthy ban may now be met if the FA’s disciplinary committee finds that the striker knowingly performed a sign associated with anti-Semitism.