West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka denied on Thursday that his use of the “quenelle” gesture during a soccer match in December was racially motivated. Earlier, Anelka lost the support of the French Jewish community leader he was citing to defend his use of the gesture, which is largely perceived as anti-Semitic.
“West Bromwich Albion can confirm that Nicolas Anelka has denied an FA charge regarding the gesture he made after scoring his first goal against West Ham United on December 28,” the team said in an official statement on its website, adding that Anelka had requested “a personal hearing” on the matter from the Football Association authorities.
Anelka, a French national, is facing a minimum five-game ban if an English Football Association panel rules that his goal-celebration gesture was a racially aggravated breach of its rules. The team said Thursday it would “make no further comment until the FA’s disciplinary process has reached a conclusion.”
The player responded to this week’s FA charge by highlighting through his Facebook and Twitter accounts how the Jewish organization which represents France’s estimated 500,000 Jews said the gesture was not offensive because it was performed on a football field rather than in front of a Jewish site or Holocaust memorial.
But Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions President Roger Cukierman backpedalled Thursday on his earlier comments, now stressing that the gesture is “an inversed Hitler salute.” Cukierman said he was “troubled” Anelka dedicated his quenelle to French performer Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, “whose own motives are incontestably anti-Semitic.”
“It must be noted that the quenelle gesture has spread dangerously among our fellow citizens and especially among young people,” Cukierman said on his organization’s website. “I was disappointed by Anelka’s attitude, whose behavior is the opposite of that which should be shown by a top-class athlete to the youths of our country.”
Anelka does have the backing of Dieudonne, who has agreed to abandon a controversial show banned in several French cities after angering the government.
“Nicolas Anelka has all my support, that’s evident,” Dieudonne told British broadcaster Sky News. “I consider him a brother in humanity. He’s someone who is very courageous and for whom I have very much respect and admiration.”
Dieudonne has been held by French police for questioning twice in the last two days. A bailiff who delivered documents demanding that Dieudonne pay back taxes said he was shot at with Flash-balls from Dieudonne’s house west of Paris, according to the regional prosecutor’s office. Dieudonne, who has denied wrongdoing, was released both times without charge.
Dieudonne has been convicted seven times for inciting racial hatred against Jews and is facing an eighth trial for suggesting during a show that the French Jewish journalist Patrick Cohen belonged in a gas chamber. He also is the originator of the quenelle, the increasingly popular gesture in France and Europe that has been called anti-Semitic and a quasi-Nazi salute.
Anelka performed the gesture as he celebrated scoring in West Brom’s 3-3 draw with West Ham in the Premier League on December 28.