French footballer Nicolas Anelka has strongly defended a controversial gesture he made during a weekend match, even as British football authorities mulled possible punishment for what many allege was an anti-Semitic salute.
Nicolas Anelka, a 34-year-old West Bromwich Albion striker and former member of France’s national team, issued a series of tweets on Sunday rejecting claims that the gesture he made on the field a day earlier was anti-Semitic, or a thinly veiled Nazi-like salute.
“I don’t know what religion has to do with it. Of course I’m not an anti-Semite nor racist and [I] stand by my gesture,” Anelka said in a tweet, calling the gesture merely “anti-establishment”.
He also called on “people not to be duped by the media” which were “lumping together things and causing an argument without knowing what the gesture really means”.
Anelka’s response came amid growing outrage online and internationally, and a risk that he could face match suspensions.
The British Football Association (FA) told the AFP news agency on Sunday that it would investigate the incident. Anelka could face a minimum five-match ban under a new anti-discriminatory disciplinary measures introduced in May.
Anelka also asserted the gesture was a dedication to a friend, a French comedian named Dieudonne, who has made the salute.
Dieudonne has made overtly anti-Jewish remarks in public for years, and has been fined seven times for defamation, insult and provocation to hate, and for racial discrimination, according to AFP.
Commenting on Anelka’s gesture, Dalil Boubakeur, the head imam of the Great Mosque of Paris, said on Sunday he “strongly condemned any act or words of an anti-Semitic or racist nature in the sporting world”.
French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron called Anelka’s action a “shocking, sickening provocation” and said there was “no place for anti-Semitism and inciting hatred on the football pitch”.
The Union of Jewish Students in France also attacked Anelka’s “cowardly support” for Dieudonne.
West Brom caretaker coach Keith Downing defended Anelka on Saturday. “I think speculation can be stopped now, it is absolute rubbish really,” he said.