Anelka handed five-match ban
Nicolas Anelka (AFP Photo)
London - Nicolas Anelka's future in English football was in the balance on Thursday after he was given a five-match ban for making the controversial 'quenelle' salute which was widely condemned as anti-Semitic.
The Football Association cleared Anelka of being an anti-Semite and were convinced that he was not promoting anti-Semitism by his use of the gesture.
However, he was nevertheless guilty of an "aggravated breach" of FA rules for making the 'quenelle' while playing for West Bromwich Albion in a English Premiership match away to West Ham United on December 28.
As a result, the 34-year-old French striker was banned and fined £80 000.
Anelka was also ordered to complete a "compulsory education course" although he does have the right of appeal.
Anelka's lawyers, Brown Rudnick, responded by saying: "Nicolas Anelka is pleased that the FA regulatory commission has found him not to be an anti-Semite and that he did not intend to express or promote anti-Semitism by his use of the quenelle gesture.
"He is now waiting to receive the commission's full reasons for their decision before considering whether or not to appeal."
West Brom, who last month saw main sponsor Zoopla announce they would not be renewing a £3 million deal that expires at the end of the season, said they would suspend Anelka "pending the conclusion of the FA's disciplinary process and the club's own internal investigation".
"The club acknowledges that the FA panel 'did not find that Nicolas Anelka is an anti-Semite or that he intended to express or promote anti-Semitism by his use of the 'quenelle''," said a West Brom statement.
"However, the club cannot ignore the offence that his actions have caused, particularly to the Jewish community, nor the potential damage to the club's reputation.
"The club will make no further comment until the FA's disciplinary process and its own internal investigation have been completed."
Midlands club West Brom, currently just one point above the relegation zone with 11 games left, are not in action again until a home match against English champions Manchester United on March 8.
Former France international forward Anelka made the 'quenelle' after scoring the first of his two goals in a 3-3 draw at Upton Park.
Anelka always denied the gesture was anti-Semitic or that he himself was a racist.
Even so, he was banned by a disciplinary panel chaired by leading lawyer Christopher Quinlan following a hearing in Watford, north of London.
The quenelle, described as an inverted Nazi salute, has been popularised by French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, a friend of Anelka's and who has been prosecuted in France for various racial offences.
Anelka maintained his goal celebration was an anti-establishment gesture in support of Dieudonne and in a Twitter post in December denied there was any prejudiced intent on his part.
"I do not know what religion has to do with this story", he wrote, adding that "of course I am neither racist nor anti-Semitic".
Earlier this month, Dieudonne was banned from entering the United Kingdom after the Home Office, Britain's interior ministry, made him the subject of an exclusion order.
Anelka does though remain free to play for the time being, with a FA statement Thursday saying: "Anelka has the right to appeal the decision.
"Anelka must notify the FA of his intention to appeal within seven days of receipt of the written reasons.
"The penalty is suspended until after the outcome of any appeal, or the time for appealing expires, or Anelka notifies the FA of his decision not to appeal."
Although the commission accepted Anelka was not anti-Semitic, they still felt his use of the 'quenelle' was sufficiently serious for him to be given a five-match ban, the minimum suspension that could have been imposed under the FA's new anti-discrimination code.