Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The Football Association has taken some momentous decisions in its 151-year
history, but never before has it been warned that the outcome of a
disciplinary hearing risks inflaming racial hatred on the streets of France.
When a three-man independent regulatory commission sits in judgment of Nicolas
Anelka’s quenelle gesture from Tuesday, there will be far more at stake than
the reputation of West
Bromwich Albion’s 34-year-old striker.
The case promises either to validate or undermine the FA’s attempts to
strengthen its stance on racism after the punishments given to John Terry
and Luis Suárez.
It has a significance well beyond football; Simon Johnson, interim chief
executive of the Jewish Leadership Council and a former FA director with
responsibility for equality, argues it is “a vital test case for the whole
fight against racism in this country”.
It threatens to incite further unrest in France, where the government has
banned the performances of Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, Anelka’s friend and the
comedian who invented the quenelle, a gesture he insists is
“anti-establishment” but the authorities judge to be anti-Semitic.
The precise question facing the panel – made up of a QC, an FA official and a
former player or manager – is simple: did Anelka commit an “aggravated
breach” of the FA’s Rule E3, which covers racially abusive behaviour?
Few of those British viewers watching the match on Dec 28 would have had any
idea, as Anelka celebrated a goal at Upton Park, that he was supposedly
performing what has been described as an “inverted Nazi salute”. To those
watching on the other side of the Channel, it was incendiary.
Anelka sought to clarify his intent: yes, the gesture was in support of his
notorious friend Dieudonné, but no, there was no anti-Jewish dimension. The
FA, and West Bromwich Albion, were caught off guard.
When the governing body responded to criticism of the four-match ban issued to
the former England captain Terry for calling Anton Ferdinand a “black —-”
by raising the minimum punishment for such cases to five matches, it could
not have envisaged that the next major flashpoint would be so perplexing
that it would need a month to bring a charge against Anelka. The Crown
Prosecution Service decided that, unlike Terry’s case, it was “not a
The FA’s prevaricating infuriated Jewish leaders, as did West Bromwich’s
refusal to suspend the player, which prompted shirt sponsor Zoopla to signal
the end of its association with the club.
“It’s very unfortunate for the FA – but fortunate for the game – that such a
case has put the FA on the spot,” said Lord Ouseley, the chairman of
anti-racism watchdog, Kick It Out.
With the FA having satisfied itself of Anelka’s guilt in a 34-page document
presented to the striker, it is now the turn of an independent commission to
be put on the spot.
Its first job will be to determine precisely what FA prosecutors have to prove
– on the balance of probabilities – for Anelka to be convicted, as 99 per
cent of defendants are in independent regulatory commission cases.
For FA regulations are such that the panel has the power to decide if it
matters whether there was ‘intent’ from Anelka to be anti-Semitic. The
Suárez commission in 2012 decided his behaviour was a strict-liability
offence, rendering whether he intended to offend Patrice Evra irrelevant.
The panel in the Terry case asked the FA to prove he intended to insult
Ferdinand – he had, after all, been found not guilty of a criminal offence
on a similar basis.
Leading sports lawyer Graham Shear, of Berwin Leighton Paisner, said:
“Independent FA panels have lots of flexibility to arrive at a finding,
which is almost unique.”
Shear believes those defending Anelka may seek to capitalise on any perceived
inconsistencies between the Suárez and Terry judgments.
They may also say that Manchester City’s Samir Nasri, Liverpool’s Mamadou
Sakho and NBA star Tony Parker have all been photographed performing the
quenelle, and none was charged.
Yet, Anelka’s friendship with Dieudonné – convicted several times in France
for incitement to racial hatred and banned this month from entering the UK –
is damning, as are the events which preceded his celebration.
A day earlier, France’s interior minister announced plans to ban Dieudonné
from holding public meetings. Days before that, police arrested alleged
Jewish vigilantes for attacking a man for performing the quenelle, which
others had been pictured doing at Holocaust memorials, synagogues and a
Jewish school where three children and a teacher were killed by an Islamic
Jonathan Arkush, the vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews,
said: “The excuse which Anelka and Dieudonné trot out is exposed by what
Dieudonné calls ‘the establishment’. Dieudonné says the establishment are
the Zionists who have taken France’s government prisoner. This is a
blatantly anti-Jewish gesture.”
Establishing Anelka’s guilt may be easy; deciding what sanction to impose is a
much thornier issue, one which will prove how tough the FA’s new punishments
are. How much weight does the panel place on premeditation, on Anelka’s
refusal to admit any wrongdoing and on the fact the game was broadcast live
around the world?
Under old rules, Terry got a four-game ban for one racist utterance, while
Suárez got double that for several. Arkush said: “Anelka was much worse.
This is a gesture with racist connotations made in front of thousands and
thousands of people, not a private insult.”
A British-based French journalist, Philippe Auclair, was one of the first to
condemn Anelka’s celebration. He believes the striker should be banned
“until the end of the season” and has warned the case has the potential to
inflame tensions in France, which he said was in “a very, very sick state”
“There’s a feeling that things are going to blow up at some point, that
there’s going to be some great social convulsion, probably a violent one,”
he said, adding he had received death threats on Twitter for reporting on
the Anelka case.
The hearing, which is expected to conclude this week, will not be the end of
The player, whose contract expires at the end of the season, could yet be
sacked for gross misconduct by West Bromwich, who are set to launch their
own investigation following the hearing.
As for the FA, Johnson said: “Whether they like it or not, they are at the
vanguard of the fight against anti-racism and, therefore, all those who want
to see racism eliminated from society look to sports governing bodies to do
the right thing.”
Original article -