It was a tense and nervy evening at The Hawthorns tonight, as West Bromwich Albion and Everton played out a one-all draw that did neither too many favours in this year’s Premier League. Everton missed out on the chance to leapfrog back over Tottenham Hotspur and into fifth place in the table, whilst West Bromwich Albion rose to thirteenth place in the table but remain just four points above the relegation places in what has become an extremely congested bottom half of the league table. Tonight, though, the match being played was only part of a wider issue facing the club. Tonight, we have might have been forgiven for thinking, was all about a certain West Bromwich Albion player and a thoughtless, stupid gesture made a little over three weeks ago.
It is now a little over three weeks since Nicolas Anelka chose the moment of scoring during his team’s home draw against West Ham United to perform a gesture known as the “quenelle,” which is commonly regarded in France as an anti-semitic gesture. As has been documented almost to the point of exhaustion, this gesture is the brainchild of the French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, who has used it repeatedly during his live shows. Dieudonné has claimed, disingenuously in the opinion of many, that this gesture is no more than an “anti-establishment gesture” and a remnant of his “anti-Zionist” campaign in 2009, and he claims that he is an anti-Zionist – where “Zionism” means the Jewish nationalist movement that which supports the Jewish national state in Palestine – as opposed to being an anti-semite.
He doesn’t, however, seem to be fooling many with this line of reasoning. The French Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, is now considering whether to ban all public appearances by the comedian, although his lawyers – and other legal experts – have argued that to ban him from performing would be impossible. That Dieudonné is an anti-semite, however, doesn’t seem to be in a great deal of doubt. He has previously been fined for inciting racial hatred and hate speech on several occasions, has described Holocaust commemorations as “memorial pornography,” and recently attacked Patrick Cohen, a Jewish journalist who has publicly criticised him, by saying that, “When the wind turns, I don’t think he’ll have time to pack a suitcase. When I hear Patrick Cohen talking, you see, I think of gas ovens.”
Anelka, meanwhile, justified himself thus on Twitter, the day after the incident:
Meaning of quenelle: anti-system. I do not know what the word religion has to do with this story! This quenelle is dedicated to Dieudonné. With regard to the ministers who give their own interpretations of my quenelle, they are the ones that create confusion and controversy without knowing what it really means. I ask people not to be duped by the media. Of course, I am neither racist nor anti-Semitic and I fully stand by my gesture.
There has been no apology from Anelka regarding this gesture over the last three and a half weeks, merely an acknowledgement that, when requested to by West Bromwich Albion Football Club, he would not repeat it, and perhaps this story would have sat in stasis had it not been for the intervention of Alex Chesterman, the Jewish co-owner of Zoopla, the property website company whose name currently adorns Albion’s shirts. Chesterman demanded last week that Anelka must be dropped from this evening’s match or his company would request that its name be removed from the club’s shirts immediately. This afternoon, Zoopla confirmed that it would be ending its agreement with the club.
Whilst some might point out that the deal was due to be ending at the end of this season anyway and that the company has probably received more publicity from this news story than it would ever do from merely having its name on the front of the team’s shirts, such cynicism seems deeply unfair. Considering Dieudonné’s previous utterances about Judaism, Anelka’s “dedication” to this odious individual, the player’s subsequent failure to apologise for his behaviour, and his club’s largely unsatisfactory statement on the subject at the end of December, that Chesterman should have seen fit to pull the plug on his company’s name adorning them should hardly be any great surprise.
There is, however, a further organisation who might be considered to have allowed this story to hang around like a bad smell for considerably longer than it has needed to. This matter has been investigated by the Football Association for the last three and a half weeks and, while it is understood that they are due to make a further statement on the subject in the very near future and that Anelka is widely expected to be charged by them – it has been suggested that the governing body wishes to ensure that its case is watertight before charging the player – a delay of almost four weeks certainly seems like too long, and it is certainly long enough for grievances to have been allowed to fester on all sides. Piara Powar, the executive director of the FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) Network, for example, has stated that:
We have been disappointed to see the delay in the announcement from the FA. “It feels like it has taken too long really. I don’t know why it has taken so long. Whatever he meant by the gesture, the apology should have been forthcoming immediately. The first rule for a player who does something that causes such offence like this is that they should apologise and accept that it might have caused offence. To hide away is just the wrong approach.
While Lord Ouseley, the chair of the Kick It Out campaign, reserved his criticism for West Bromwich Albion Football Club rather than the player himself when speaking to BBC Radio Five Live:
I think the situation has always been from day one that we have clubs who will not take responsibility, they always hide behind the FA. This has caused a lot of offence to a lot of people. We know that from the complaints we are getting. As an employer, you have a responsibility to your fans and have to carry that responsibility out by making sure your players conduct does not offend. If this happened in any other arena, your employer would be disciplining you.
It is also worth mentioning that other players – most notably Samir Nasri of Manchester City and Mamadou Sakho of Liverpool – have also been photographed performing the same gesture. Those, however, are seperate matters to this, and should be dealt with accordingly, although we don’t know, of course, whether they will be dealt with at all. For the record, Nasri apologised and Sakho claimed to have been tricked into performing it. Ultimately, though, whilst the FA have dragged their feet over this matter and the response from West Bromwich Albion might not have been a completely satisfactory one, the responsibility for this entire can of worms opening rests quite squarely on the shoulders of Nicolas Anelka.
It was Anelka who made the decision to make this gesture in the first place, and we find it inconceivable that he wouldn’t have known the implications of doing so. Anelka is French, and Dieudonné has been a big story in France for some considerable time now. Furthermore, his subsequent failure to apologise for any offence caused by his behaviour – when it surely must have been put to him that to offer some words of amelioration would smooth matters considerably – only furthers the suspicion that his behaviour was no innocent misunderstanding. Nicolas Anelka is asking supporters not to be “duped by the media.” West Bromwich Albion supporters may, however, do well to ask themselves what they may be defending before making any grand gestures on his behalf.
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