LONDON (AFP) – West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka faces a lengthy ban after being charged by the Football Association on Tuesday over an allegedly anti-Semitic salute.
The 34-year-old French striker performed the ‘quenelle’ salute, putting one arm across his chest and straightening the other, during West Brom’s 3-3 draw at West Ham United in the Premier League last month.
The FA said that Anelka had made a gesture that was “abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper” and included “a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief”.
Anelka has until 1800 GMT on Thursday to respond to the charge and if found guilty he faces a minimum five-game suspension, under new anti-discrimination measures introduced by the FA in May last year.
An independent three-person commission will be appointed to deal with the case, which will be decided by a disciplinary hearing if Anelka contests the charge.
West Brom said in a statement that Anelka was “considering his options” after receiving a 34-page document from the FA explaining the charges facing him.
“Under FA rules, Anelka remains available for first-team selection until the FA’s disciplinary process has reached its conclusion,” the statement added.
“Following this, the club will conclude its own internal enquiry.”
The ‘quenelle’, popularised by French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, has been described by critics in France as an inverted Nazi salute, but Anelka has insisted that it was merely “a dedication” to the comic.
He also took to Twitter to affirm that he was “neither anti-Semite nor racist”, but stopped short of issuing an apology.
M’bala M’bala, better known simply as Dieudonne, has been prosecuted for anti-Semitism in France, but he says the salute is merely an anti-establishment gesture.
The FA’s decision to charge Anelka, after a three-and-a-half-week investigation, comes a day after West Brom’s shirt sponsors, property website Zoopla, decided to end their association with the club.
“In recent weeks we have decided to re-evaluate this sponsorship and as a result we will focus our attention on other marketing activities from the end of the season,” said Lawrence Hall, Zoopla’s head of communications.
The deal was reportedly worth £3 million ($4.9 million, 3.6 million euros) over two years, but West Brom said that they had already been planning to find a new sponsor.
Anelka, a former France international, has continued to appear for the club despite the furore and played for 77 minutes in his side’s 1-1 draw with Everton on Monday.
Speaking after the game, West Brom’s new Spanish coach, Pepe Mel, said that he had no qualms about continuing to select Anelka.
“I don’t know. I am only head coach,” Mel told Sky Sports when asked about the affair.
“He is a good personality. He needs a goal and he will work for me very well.”
Anelka thanked West Brom and the club’s fans for their support after the game, writing on Twitter: “Big thanks to @WBAofficial for the support on this story & also to the West Bromwich fans who were magnificent tonight.”
Anelka has agreed to a request from West Brom not to repeat the salute, following a wave of criticism in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
British anti-racism organisation Kick It Out, meanwhile, has criticised the FA for the time it has taken to bring the affair to a conclusion.
Jewish pressure groups based in Britain have called for Anelka to be hit with a lengthy suspension, but he has received support from Everton’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku.
Speaking before details of the FA charge were announced, Lukaku told the Everton website: “I don’t think he should be banned for that. He was just supporting a comedian in France.
“We don’t have to make such a big deal about it.”
Anelka, who converted to Islam in 2004, has had a chequered playing career, having notably been sent home from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after clashing with France coach Raymond Domenech.
He was subsequently handed an 18-match ban by the French Football Federation.
Nicknamed ‘Le Sulk’ in the British media due to his surly on-pitch demeanour, he has played for a total of 11 clubs, including European giants Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea.