2012, the Football Association laid a wreath at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In 2013, the FA visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, again paying heartfelt
homage to those who perished at the hands of anti-Semites.
In 2014, the FA decided that an anti-Semitic gesture made in public by one of
the most intelligent footballers in the Premier League, a player friendly
with a notorious bigot, was worthy of only a five-game ban, £80,000 fine and
the footballing equivalent of the driver-awareness course.
Confused? The FA certainly is. The organisation historically charged with
protecting the game’s image and soul does employ honourable people working
inside Wembley, conscientious individuals involved in campaigns to kick
discrimination out of football.
And then comes this weak Anelka verdict. For those principled people at the
FA, the lenient punishment meted out to Anelka damages their initiatives,
their credibility. As ever with the FA, it is one step forward, two steps
back, and tripping over.
The FA is a body torn between a fear of lawyers and a genuine desire to do
good. Currently, the lawyers are winning. Five games? Anelka surely will not
appeal that? He must know he has got off lightly.
The essence of the (FA-appointed) independent tribunal’s judgment is that
Anelka is not anti-Semitic and did the quenelle without realising its
significance, despite the long-running furore in France over the gesture,
despite his friend constantly getting into trouble for it.
Having been found guilty, Anelka has been given the minimum punishment when
those hoping for the FA to take a stance, to send out the message that
anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in its sphere of influence, ie in
English football grounds, are deeply disappointed.
Greg Dyke’s administration becomes more stained by the month.
Stupid pronouncements about England’s World Cup chances. The establishment of
a commission which has not sought the advice of some of the most shrewd
Kevin Davies, of Preston North End, wrote a considered 4,000-word thesis of
what is wrong with English football, sending a copy to the FA, which did not
even have the courtesy to reply to a former England international. How cut
off from reality are Dyke and the FA?
And now this. The FA believes that it has handled a complicated test case
sensitively and effectively. Test case? If the Anelka scandal is a test case
then how wonderful it would have been if the FA had been stronger, showing
that it will not permit its pitches to be used for anti-Semitic gestures.
The FA prides itself on being the original association, the guardian of the
game’s laws and morals. It lobbied against Sepp Blatter, railed against East
European racists when the Under-21s were abused. But now? It has been
laughed off the moral high ground.
The FA cannot position itself as the game’s conscience with weak decisions
like this. It argues that the panel was independent; if so, it should appeal
the five-game verdict.
Test case? Uefa is currently investigating a similar case and it can impose a
10-match ban. Whatever decision Uefa takes, the FA should have been the
pioneering one, the organisation standing up and saying no to anti-Semitism.
The FA is guilty of inconsistency; it indicated when revealing these
supposedly tougher punishments that the five-game tariff would be applied if
the guilty party had immediately shown contrition. Anelka has not.
His employers, West Bromwich Albion, now have a call to make on a player who
has heaped such embarrassment on a club hitherto known as being in the
vanguard of the fight against intolerance.
There has to be sympathy for West Brom, who have had to wait for the FA
disciplinary process to take its course; by their own ensuing action towards
Anelka will West Brom themselves be properly judged.
It would be nice if somebody showed some leadership on the issue. Given the
anaemic FA response, maybe most damage to Anelka will be inflicted by the
mocking, the criticism, the inevitable match-day catcalls.
He is tarnished. As is the FA’s disciplinary procedure again.