Did he really not know?

Published 23/01/2014 | 05:26

Nicolas Anelka of West Brom touches his sleeve as he celebrates scoring their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion at Boleyn Ground on December 28, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

BEFORE Nicolas Anelka scored that goal, before he made that gesture, few on these islands had ever heard of Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala.

Friend of Anelka, originator of the quenelle gesture, comic, controversialist and a man considered by the French state (particularly by its socialist government) to be an anti-Semite. A man whose shows have been banned by the French judiciary for hate speech.

For those who argue that sport and politics shouldn't mix this is case in point. Even though Anelka claims he had no idea whatsoever about the quenelle's anti-Semitic connotations, he cannot deny that by doing what he did he introduced a wider audience to Dieudonné and his disturbing ideology.

Some might argue that's enough to warrant punishment. A position that's easy to sympathise with, even if, on balance, probably the wrong one. To hold one man responsible for the views of another doesn't, in our view, stack up.

To us this is a question of intent and foreknowledge. Did Anelka know what the quenelle signified? Did his gesture that day represent an endorsement of Dieudonné and his ideology? When he says it was simply intended as a message of support for his friend, should we take him at his word?

French commentator Phillipe Auclair has argued that it's simply not credible that Anelka didn't know what the quenelle signified. The gesture, which resembles a reverse Nazi salute, is now widely considered in France to be anti-Semitic.

Pictures of people performing the gesture at prominent Jewish locations through-out Europe – Auschwitz, the Anne Frank House – would seem to confirm this. That puts Anelka on very shaky ground.

It's also, as people such as Auclair have pointed out, a struggle to imagine that a man, such as Anelka, would not have been intimately aware of his friend's political and religious beliefs. Things like that do tend to crop up in conversation from time to time.

Zoopla (co-owned by the Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman), the shirt-sponsor of Anelka's club West Bromwich Albion, seems to agree and has opted to pull sponsorship from the club as a result.

The FA has now moved to charge Anelka with reports suggesting that intent or lack thereof will matter not in its deliberations, which in one sense is a shame. That's the important thing to clarify, otherwise we'll be left with as many questions as answers.


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