The FA, Anelka and the Quenelle


January 21, 2014

The Football Association (the FA) today announced that they have charged Nicolas Anelka with making an abusive, indecent, insulting or improper gesture contrary to their rules. This blog briefly sets out the background to the Anelka gesture and the next steps in the FA disciplinary procedure.

French football expert Philippe Auclair has branded West Brom star Nicolas Anelka’s celebration against West Ham ‘distasteful’ and 'ill-advised'

Background

Frenchman Anelka, celebrated the first of his goals in the 3-3 draw with West Ham on 28 December by making the below gesture known as the ‘quenelle’. It is made by touching the right shoulder with the left hand and keeping the right arm pointed downwards. Before this gesture was made, it was almost unheard of in the UK. For background and context on the gesture and its origins click here and here.

Anelka at the time justified the sign as “just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonne”. The problem that many (including the French government) have with Dieudonne relates to his controversial shows previously banned because of its anti-semetic content. Anelka has denied there being any racist intent behind his celebration though Dieudonne has previously been found guilty making anti-Semitic speeches in France.

To add an extra level of complication for West Brom, there were reports that their sponsors Zoopla, asked West Brom not to select Anelka whilst the FA investigation was ongoing. Subsequently, the company announced that they will be ending their sponsorship deal with the club at the end of the season.

The context and connection of the sign to the controversial ‘comedian’ is most likely the reason why the FA has taken a considerable amount of time to come to this decision. Its press release  on 10th January stated that the association has consulted at length with  “an appointed expert regarding the salient issues related to the ‘quenelle’ gesture”.

FA Process

Anelka has been charged with misconduct under Section E of the FA Rules of Association. In paragraph E3(1)  under General Behaviour, the regulations stipulate that a player shall not:

“act in a manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour”.

Should a player be found to have breached rule E3(1), then it can be deemed an aggravated breach, if there is, for example, reference to ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief. An aggravated breach of regulation E3(1) will mean that if a FA Regulatory Commission finds Anelka guilty, it will impose a minimum suspension of five matches which can be increased in instances where there are additional aggravated features. A second aggravated breach will incur a minimum ten game ban. The FA press release confirmed that the charge was an aggravated breach “as defined in FA Rule E3[2], in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief.” 

The above regulation was added to the FA’s 2013-14 regulatory handbook after the two high profile Suarez and Terry FA regulatory investigations took place. Luis Suarez was given an eight game ban and fined £40,000 whilst John Terry was suspended for four games and fined £220,000.  This is the first time that the FA has engaged its redrafted regulations.

Should Anelka contest the charge the FA’s task will be to demonstrate that he breached the regulations based on the balance of probabilities test, decided by an Independent Regulatory Commission. Interestingly, Daily Telegraph journalist Henry Winter tweeted this morning that “when FA announced 5-game minmum ban… board member told me ‘only five if immidiate contrition shown’. Anelka can expect more.”  Without immediate contrition it appears that if Anelka is found guilty, his ban could be considerably over the five game minimum.

Anelka has until 6pm on 23 January 2014 to respond to the charge.

Many thanks to Tim Coles  and Keiran Bennett for their assistance in researching the above.