Simon Johnson: Nicolas Anelka’s Regrettable Legacy

This is a cross post from the Telegraph by Simon Johnson.

How will Nicolas Anelka best be remembered in English sport?

Well, until 28th December 2013, in the view of many football fans, it would have been as a talented but mercurial striker, a reliable goalscorer who constantly moved between Clubs but who never achieved the consistency or affection that his talent deserved.

But, since his appalling decision to celebrate a goal on 28th December 2013 by making a racist gesture, he is destined to be remembered in the history of sport in this country as a name to be discussed by future students of this country’s fight against racism. The FA v Anelka, decided on the 27th February 2014 with the conviction of Anelka for making a racially aggravated insulting gesture, was a hugely significant test case of how robust the anti-racism procedures are in British sport.

The FA claims to have a robust, class-leading, confidence building, anti-racism policy. And indeed, the FA does have well drafted policies, visible campaigns, accessible reporting systems, dedicated staff and an Inclusivity Advisory Board. Yet, all of those steps would have counted for little if they had not been robust enough to deal with the challenges posed by Anelka’s gesture.

Football has come a long way since the days of virulent, overt, nasty, racist abuse of black players, best encapsulated by that enduring image of John Barnes of Liverpool back-heeling across the touchline a banana skin which had been thrown at him by someone in the crowd.  These days, if there is racist chanting, the football authorities will deal with it. If a player calls another by the N-word or a black insult, The FA will, as in the Terry and Suarez case, deal with it, albeit after complex legal wrangling.  That is because the cases were simple, and the insult overt and obvious.

The Anelka case tested whether the FA’s structures and processes could deal with a less obvious, and therefore considerably more offensive gesture, such as Anelka’s so called “quenelle” gesture. Anti-Semitic abuse is rarely obvious these days.  It is often cloaked in concepts such as anti-establishmentism or anti-zionism.  Anelka did just that.  He claimed that the gesture was a tribute to his friend, Dieudonne, and that his friend was using it merely as an “anti-establishment” gesture.

The offensiveness of this defence is obvious.  It is as though somebody who had thrown a banana skin at a black player had made the defence that, rather than intending it to be offensive to black people, it was rather a protest against the treatment of animals in zoos. Or that he made the gesture as a tribute to his friend Nick Griffin.

Anelka’s friend, M Dieudonne,  has stated that the “establishment” (against which he is using this gesture) is controlled by Jews and Zionists. And this friend of Anelka’s has been convicted of hate crime offences on numerous occasions. A friend who, at his own comedy club, gave an award to a notorious holocaust denier, the “award” being presented by a stooge dressed in a concentration camp inmate costume, complete with yellow star.

And if the quenelle is merely a harmless anti-establishment gesture, let’s see where other friends of M Dieudonne have been photographed making the gesture. The FA was sent pictures of the gesture being made at such “pillars of the establishment” as the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Berlin Holocaust memorial, the Anne Frank House and the site in Toulouse of a gun massacre where Jewish children were shot dead. Just a moment to think of what might possibly link these sites will reveal the paucity of Anelka’s defence.

With the accepted definition of anti-Semitism, it does not matter whether Anelka, or even officials within The FA’s disciplinary department, think that a gesture is anti-Semitic or not. Whether something is anti- Semitic depends on the perception of the victims of the insult or abuse.  It is therefore robust practice in anti-Racism to seek the views of the group likely to be offended.

Therefore, the Jewish community is entitled to advise The FA on whether something is anti-Semitic or not. And you may be assured that Jewish communal institutions are not a bunch of hysterical, hyper-sensitive rabble rousers. On the contrary, the Community Security Trust is an internationally acknowledged, Government recognised, authoritative expert on anti-Semitic activity and discourse. The Community’s views can be taken into account. In this case, it is good to see that they seem to have been.

The conviction of Nicolas Anelka is a welcome outcome of this case. It demonstrates that The FA’s processes are robust enough to deal with the most pernicious of racism cases.

All those of us dedicated to defeating racism and discrimination throughout sport can take great confidence that, when put to the test, football’s anti-racism procedures stood up to the challenge.

And as for Anelka, I am afraid that, in the case of this Community at least, he will be remembered as an important test case in the fight against racism.