West Bromwich Albion player Nicolas Anelka implied that he was unaware of the Holocaust in his evidence to the Football Association’s independent commission investigating his quenelle gesture.
According to the full judgement published today, the commission noted that despite being schooled in France where Holocaust education is compulsory, Anelka said he knew “nothing of Jewish stories”.
Appearing in front of the three-man panel, Anelka had insisted he had no idea his quenelle goal celebration - performed during a Premier League match last December - was antisemitic, even though he was aware of the antisemitic French comedian Dieudonne M’bala and regularly watched recordings of his shows.
Dieudonne is credited with inventing the quenelle, an inverted Nazi-style salute.
Anelka also repeated previous claims that his quenelle was done “purely to say hello to my friend Dieudonne M’bala, as I knew he was watching the game”.
“The reason I made the quenelle gesture after scoring a goal during the match was simply as a ‘high five’ or ‘hello’ to the comedian Dieudonné, he told the commission. “I wanted to dedicate the goal to Dieudonné as a friendly gesture.”
Anelka continued: “I know that the quenelle sign is closely associated with Dieudonné (who I believe invented it in the first place) and that he would therefore know (if he was watching, or subsequently saw the footage) by me making the quenelle gesture that I was saying hello to him and dedicating that goal to him.”
The footballer also said he was a big fan of Dieudonne as a comedian and “liked him a lot” - arguing that “some of his humour was lost in translation”.
The commission, however, found that the Anelka's celebration was "strongly associated with antisemitism" because it was "strongly associated with Dieudonne" and handed Anelka a five-match ban - the minimum available -and an £80,000 fine.
The panel said: "We agree with the FA that is it not possible to divorce that association from the gesture".
The report also reveals that the FA had argued for a longer ban than the five-game minimum, claiming that Anelka’s offences were a “aggravated breach” of the organisation's anti-racism rules.
The FA provided four main reasons for a tougher punishment: the high profile of the player, the damage done to FA diversity campaigns, his failure to admit responsibility, and the overall harm done to the image of British football.
In response, the commission, chaired by Christopher Quinlan QC, said Anelka’s quenelle was less severe than previous cases of racism. It explained that Liverpool player Luis Suarez had been given an eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra in 2011 because, unlike Anelka, Suarez had directed the abuse at a specific person and repeated it serveral times.
The panel also said that Anelka should be shown leniency as this was his first disciplinary offence.
Anelka and the FA have seven days in which to lodge an appeal against the ban.