Racism rows seem to be an annual occurrence in English football these days. Luis Suarez, John Terry, and now Nicolas Anelka have got themselves into hot water – the West Brom striker over a controversial celebration after scoring against West Ham.
Initially, Keith Downing, caretaker boss at the Hawthorns before the appointment of Pepe Mel, dismissed any speculation over anti-semitism as exactly that, and “complete rubbish”.
“It was a dedication to French comedian who he knows very very well, who uses the gesture in his act” said Downing, who added that he did not expect any recriminations from the FA or any other governing body.
The comedian in question, Dieudonné, has received various sanctions in France, but stands by Anelka, calling him a true and brave friend, and claims the gesture is anti-establishment, not, as many others claim, anti-semitic, or an inverted Nazi salute.
The FA have charged Anelka with “abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper” gesturing in the course of a match, with the caveat that it was “an aggravated breach in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief”. The situation has all of a sudden become a very public and complicated test of the FA’s stance against racism.
It is now, given the media attention of the “quenelle”, almost impossible for the FA not to find Anelka guilty. The case is pretty similar conceptually to the racism charge brought by Patrice Evra against Luis Suarez, where the Uruguayan claimed that the term he had used was acceptable and not regarded as racist in his home country. Anelka too disputes the offensive nature of his actions, making the case against him one of interpretation rather than the fact itself.
The minimum punishment for Anelka is a five-match ban, due to the seriousness of the charge, and it certainly wouldn’t be unthinkable for the FA, in an effort to demonstrate their zero tolerance policy against racism, to go above and beyond that.
Anelka’s actions are, at best, stupid. There is little doubt that he believes that he has done nothing wrong, as his Twitter account demonstrates, and that the celebration was done out of support for his friend.
If he were an anti-Semite, he would be stupider still to make that fact public through a goal celebration. He is most likely not, however, Anelka picked one of the most public forums possible to air his views on a man who is politically controversial.
It falls to us to consider whether footballers should indeed be taking stances on issues such as this.
If Anelka had not done what he did, almost no-one in the UK would have heard of Dieudonné or the “quenelle”. Footballers are some of the most high-profile individuals in the country, even the world, and so they are in a position of power, with which comes great responsibility. While Anelka has every right to express his views, he would have been far better off releasing a statement fully explaining how he felt and distancing himself from anything that might be considered racist or anti-Semitic.
However, the single gesture, in isolation and unexplained, creates confusion and anger.
First published on FootyMatters.com.