By Michael PEARL, University of Birmingham.
Almost every year in the Barclays Football Premier League, there seems to be another incident deemed as racist which goes on to dominate the news for months.
The most recent incident involves West Bromwich’s Nicolas Anelka’s ‘quenelle’ gesture, which is seen by many as an inverted Nazi salute. It is also seen by some as a sign of Holocaust denial. The French footballer has insisted that this was merely anti-establishment and a tribute to his comedian friend, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.
As a Jew, my reaction to this would come as no surprise. I agree with the idea that there is no place for racism in football, or indeed anywhere else. I was disappointed that a gesture as politically controversial as this was made in what should have been an entertaining and enjoyable football match.
It’s hard to be sure whether Anelka was truly aware of the meaning of his celebration but what interested me more was the reactions of different groups of people.
The sponsors of West Bromwich, Zoopla, have stated their intention to end the sponsorship deal with the club at the end of the season. But the most telling reaction came at a match I recently attended – West Bromwich versus Everton. We were lucky enough to bag some front row seats and were cheering enthusiastically along with the rest of the supporters as the players came out onto the pitch.
Each player’s name was announced, and in turn we gave a supportive cheer.
The last name to be called out was Nicolas Anelka. We felt conflicted; reluctant to cheer him but not feeling heroic (or foolish) enough to jeer him in front of his home supporters.
I was disheartened, if unsurprised, at how the West Brom fans erupted into applause at the sound of his name. I remember thinking to myself ‘this says a lot about modern society’ and led me to wonder whether everyone in that crowd had their priorities correct.
Loyalty to a player or loyalty to humanity?
An interview posted on the BBC with Jewish comedian and writer David Baddiel proved interesting. He proposed that Anelka denying the fact he was making an anti-Semitic gesture while supporting Dieudonné is illogical, since Dieudonné is in fact a renowned anti-Semite.
In 2012, the French comedian directed and starred in the movie ‘The Anti-Semite’ – in no way ironic and indeed going as far as to mock Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners.
Baddiel quite accurately described a similar scenario where a player might make a gesture that is seen as anti-immigration, whilst claiming to only have done it in support of his friend Nick Griffin.
I would like to see a strong stand being made as I simply cannot see how a gesture related to Holocaust denial can be seen as acceptable.
It is known that the founder of Zoopla, Alex Chesterman is Jewish. Perhaps this was a contributing factor in the company stating their intention to end their sponsorship deal.
However I would rather believe that the reaction from the general public, both non-Jewish and Jewish, is one of the same and put my faith in the fact that one does not need to be Jewish to see why such a ‘celebration’ is offensive.