On 28th December of last year, Nicolas Anelka scored a goal against West Ham and proceeded to celebrate with the now infamous “quenelle” gesture. Within minutes of the match finishing, Anelka was being criticised for being racist, comments which largely came from across the Channel.
Anelka immediately claimed the gesture was not racist, but instead a show of support for his friend, the hugely controversial comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala. This complex topic has taken a while to be solved, and now it appears Anelka faces a five-match ban and fine for his actions. But what exactly has Anelka done wrong and does he deserve his punishment?
Described as an “inverted Nazi salute,” the “quenelle” (which involves touching or gripping your shoulder with one hand while holding the palm of your other hand outstretched and pointing to the ground) is offensive to many people around the world, however it has only received significant criticism in France because that is where it is supposed to have originated. Many people have been photographed making the salute outside Holocaust memorials and similar such places.
It’s clear that the gesture holds an offensive religious undertone, something which Anelka would obviously have known, so did Anelka really think he’d get away with claiming he didn’t mean to cause any offence, and was just acting in support of his friend? Or have the FA given Anelka too harsh a punishment for his celebration, “an anti-establishment symbol of defiance?”
I believe Anelka and his legal team were acting in ignorance in claiming such a defence. It is simply not possible to make an offensive gesture and claim that it was not meant in such a manner. Raising your middle finger in public and arguing that it was meant in a friendly way is not possible, just as the “quenelle” was for Anelka.
The FA had been warned that the outcome of the hearing could cause racial hatred on the streets of France if the French striker had not received his deserved punishment, and the fact that it took 2 months to come to a decision shows how significant this hearing was.
Anelka has received exactly what he deserved, and he has now been warned. Supporting a friend using an offensive salute (which has significance way beyond football) was ignorant and somewhat stupid, and I can only hope that the 34-year-old learns his lesson.
You can read more of Harvey’s work on the Inverted Winger blog.