FA facing a minefield of complicated racial issues
On the brink of a new year and the FA is handed another case that has the potential to force it to adjudicate on the politics of race not just in Britain, but beyond.
The case of Nicolas Anelka and his 'quenelle' gesture, with its anti-Semitic connotations, encompasses complexities and sensitivities way beyond the usual ambit. It forces the FA to undertake another forensic examination of the evidence -- just as the fraught, protracted Luis Suarez and John Terry race episodes are fading into history.
Yet the Anelka case is precisely the kind of challenge of modern governance that the FA has to confront if it is to prove its relevance. It is issues like these that make the FA crucial. This is one problem that the clubs cannot fix themselves. Even in 2014, in the era of extreme Premier League club power, matters of discipline are still the preserve of the FA.
There is no hiding from the implications of the case or its association with the French comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala. Whatever decision the FA takes, it will find itself in opposition to a forceful lobby that says it is mistaken. But then who said leadership was easy?
Anelka's salute after his goal for West Brom against West Ham on Saturday has been condemned as anti-Semitic by, among others, the French sports minister, Valerie Fourneyron.
In judging the French striker, the FA's governance and regulation department will be required to make a judgment on the racial politics and customs of modern France.
Given the complexities, the case has not been assigned to the fast-track disciplinary process, although it is now considered a live investigation by the FA.
In weighing the evidence, the FA will speak to the Community Support Trust, a Jewish organisation, and Maccabi GB, one of the UK's biggest Jewish charities, to ascertain reaction to the 'quenelle' gesture. In compiling the case against Suarez, it took expert opinion on Latin American culture.
When the background to Dieudonne is considered, not to mention the subsequent reaction to Anelka's gesture in France, there is clearly a case for him to answer, and it is a very serious one.
What the FA will have to consider is whether Anelka, like Suarez, was in breach of both parts of Rule E3. In its first part, E3 refers to "insulting words or behaviour". The second part of the rule, brings with it an "increased sanction" if the accused is found guilty of "reference to any one or more of a person's ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability".
That second part of the charge now carries with it a minimum five-match ban, as of the rule changes by the FA in the summer.
Anelka has already backed off from the most controversial element of the 'quenelle', tweeting to the effect yesterday that the outcry against him was a media invention and that no one should try to interpret the true meaning of his gesture. Yet, as in the Suarez case, pleading that he had no intention to offend anyone does not exempt him from disciplinary action.
That much is encapsulated in paragraph 453 in the summary of the Suarez judgment. The regulatory commission interpreted their role thus: "Whether a player has used abusive or insulting words or behaviour is a matter for us to decide -- these circumstances include the fact that many players playing in England come from overseas, with a different language and culture.
"However, we apply the standards that we consider appropriate to games played in England under the FA rules. Whether the words or behaviour are abusive or insulting is an objective matter; it does not depend on whether the alleged offender intended his words to be abusive or insulting."
What is not in doubt is that many people are offended by the 'quenelle', to the extent it has been cited as the reason for three retaliatory vigilante attacks by young Jewish men in France over the Christmas period. At the very least one would expect that Anelka would be aware of the gesture's controversy, even if he was not entirely clear on its historical significance.
It was always Suarez's position, even after he accepted the eight-game ban over the Patrice Evra incident, that he had never used the offending word "in a derogatory way". But under the FA regulations it is not enough to claim that a word was used carelessly without the intention to abuse racially.
The 'quenelle' is a gesture popularised by Dieudonne that appears to merge the Nazi salute with a more traditional, but non-racial, offensive gesture. Dieudonne has claimed it is an anti-establishment gesture, yet he made an openly anti-Semitic remark to Jewish radio journalist Patrick Cohen which is the subject of a racial hatred case.
Dieudonne said during his one-man show: "When the wind turns, I don't think he (Cohen) will have time to pack a suitcase. When I hear Patrick Cohen talking, you see, I think of gas ovens."
Anelka's use of the gesture came a day after the French interior minister, Manuel Valls, said he was considering whether to ban public appearances by Dieudonne. The president of the French league against racism and anti-Semitism, Alain Jakubowicz, says that the gesture signifies "the sodomisation of victims of the Holocaust". Dieudonne is now suing him for libel.
For the FA there is also the question of whether others have done the same. Mamadou Sakho and Samir Nasri have been photographed doing what appears to be the 'quenelle', the former apologising for it. Hull's Yannick Sagbo, an Ivorian, tweeted his support for Anelka.
The judgment on the Suarez case, completed two years ago today, ran to 110 pages. It is possible that the Anelka case could take just as detailed an examination. Given the severity of the allegations all else pales in comparison, but the small mercy is that this episode does not have the added enmity between two clubs that characterised the Suarez case.
Ultimately it will be the FA that decides the significance of the word and it is the FA who will judge Anelka's 'quenelle' gesture, one hopes in the same spirit of independence that has characterised the better moments in 150 years of its history. (© Independent News Service)