LONDON: West Bromwich’s controversial French striker Nicolas Anelka has been banned for five matches and fined £80,000 for his ‘quenelle’ gesture in December.
Anelka must pay the full cost of the hearing after being found guilty by an independent FA commission of making a gesture that was ‘abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper’ after scoring against West Ham on December 28.
He can appeal and, until then, has been suspended also by his club.
The FA stated: ‘An independent regulatory commission has found an aggravated breach of FA rule E3 against Nicolas Anelka proven and has issued a five-match suspension and a fine of £80,000, pending appeal.’
The sanction will raise controversy in itself and may be seen as generous considering the high-profile roll which the FA has promised over discriminatory behaviour.
The gesture is widely considered to be anti-Semitic but the commission said, in a statement, that Anelka, 34, had not been deliberately anti-Semitic in his action. The striker had always insisted that the gesture was ‘merely’ in support of a friend, an anti-establishment humourist, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.
The commission statement said: “So far as the basis for our finding on Charge 2 is concerned, we did not find that Nicolas Anelka is an anti-Semite or that he intended to express or promote anti-Semitism by his use of the quenelle.”
Anelka was represented by QC Pushpinder Saini, whose clients have included Michael Jackson and Simon Cowell. In 2009 he represented the Indian Premier League in its first prosecution of a cricketer for an anti-doping offence. Mohammed Asif was banned by the IPL Tribunal for one year following a positive sample for Nandrolone.
Anelka’s actions have previously been labelled “disgusting” by the French Interior Minister and the FA’s case was based on the 20-page report they requested from an appointed academic expert in racism.
West Bromwich, which had treated Anelka as innocent until provem guilty, followed the FA decision by suspending the player pending the outcome of his possible appeal.
The club said it treated “very seriously any such allegation which includes any reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion and/or belief.”
It added: “Upon both charges being proven, the club has suspended Nicolas Anelka pending the conclusion of the FA’s disciplinary process and the club’s own internal investigation.”
West Brom acknowledged the FA did not find Anelka to be an anti-Semite but said it could not “ignore the offence that his actions have caused, particularly to the Jewish community, nor the potential damage to the club’s reputation.”