As we go to press, the FA has yet to reveal whether it will appeal against its own tribunal’s decision that Nicholas Anelka should serve a 5 match ban for his quenelle salute. There is no doubt that it should.
The sentence — the minimum possible for the offence — sends a clear message that in football antisemitic abuse does not count as ‘proper’ racism.
Luis Suarez was handed an 8 match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra. Disgusting as his behaviour was, it was ‘one on one’ abuse — a private insult from Suarez to Evra. Anelka’s offence was of a different order of magnitude. First, it was public — a goal celebration designed to be seen not just by the crowd at Upton Park but by the millions watching on TV. Second, despite the ludicrous finding of the panel that it was unintentional, it can only have been intentional. Anelka’s own defence was that it was meant as a statement of support for his friend Dieudonne — a man repeatedly convicted of anti-Semitic abuse. And yet the FA panel handed Anelka the minimum 5 match ban.
If the FA does not appeal, it will be endorsing the panel’s view that antisemitic abuse is less worthy of condemnation than abuse based on skin colour.
All of which makes the welcome for the sentence from the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council mystifying. According to our communal leaders, the sentence shows that the FA’s regulations and processes are robust enough to deal with antisemitism.
But it shows the exact opposite — that antisemitic abuse is deliberately treated as less important than other racial abuse. It is shocking — and worrying — that neither the Board nor the JLC can see that.
In fact the only institution to have emerged with any credit is Anelka’s club. Having initially shown contempt (and lost a sponsor as a result) by allowing Anelka to play on, West Bromwich Albion reacted to his conviction by suspending the player immediately, in effect ending his career at the club. How depressing that a football club has shown a better sense of proportion and awareness of the gravity of the offence than our communal leadership.