The West Brom striker Nicolas Anelka has today been charged by the Football Association, some 24 days after his ‘quenelle’ gesture on 28th December following a goal against West Ham.
That it has taken the FA over three weeks to reach a decision on whether or not to charge the French forward should not necessarily be mistaken for dithering. In light of rule changes brought in after the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra affair, the governing body was no doubt determined to ensure a watertight case. A statement on the FA website last week explained that an ‘appointed expert’ was advising on the ‘salient issues’ – specifically whether the gesture, said to be an inverted Nazi salute, justified charges being brought.
“It is alleged that, in the 40th minute of the fixture, Anelka made a gesture which was abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper, contrary to FA Rule E3”
“It is further alleged that this is an aggravated breach, as defined in FA Rule E3, in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief.”
The FA effectively acts as a prosecutor when bringing charges against players, and will appoint an independent panel before which Anelka will either accept the charge, or state his defence.
Anelka has thus far refused to apologise for the gesture, claiming it was in support of his friend, the French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, who has a record of anti-semitic gestures. M’Bala’s show was banned in France on 28th December, the day of the West Brom v West Ham fixture.
The incident has been complicated by the silence on the matter from Anelka’s employer, West Bromwich Albion FC. Aside from brief comments in a press conference, by then Caretaker Manager Keith Downing, that Anelka had agreed ‘not to do it again’ West Brom have appeared to have held off on dealing with the situation themselves, save for publicly pressing the FA to conclude their own investigation. Anelka has continued to play for West Brom and featured for the bulk of last night’s draw with Everton.
During a discussion on Radio 5live the point was made that an employer does not need to await the outcome of an external investigation before taking action. Indeed, one imagines most employers, the NHS for example, may be criticised for doing so. It is, after all, down to the employer and not the regulatory body, to properly manage its employees, which will include promptly conducting an appropriate investigation into allegations of misconduct.
Of course, West Brom may have been reluctant to be seen to be moving into disciplinary procedures prior to the outcome of the FA investigation for fear of that having an influence. Should Anelka have been suspended pending the outcome of the external FA and internal club investigations, or does that infer ‘no smoke without fire?’ Would the principle ‘innocent until proven guilty’ have been undermined by suspending someone with such a high profile? The balance is a difficult one for any employer, let alone one under the glare of the world’s media. In many respects West Brom may well have been damned either way. Although one cannot help wonder whether someone in a similar position in any other industry would have been suspended immediately, or at least not placed centre stage. An instance of one rule for footballers and one for mere mortals…..?