Heading into the New Year there’s a lot to discuss in terms of Liverpool’s ability to cling to a top four spot and the upcoming transfer window, but I first wanted to make a quick post about the latest controversy involving Nicolas Anelka’s offensive gesture and the likely forthcoming hypocrisy from the FA.
In case you missed it, the controversy surrounds an alleged racist goal celebration the West Brom striker made following a goal in 3-3 draw against West Ham on December 28. Thanks to Roger Bennett (@rogbennett) for tweeting a link to this very informative article from the Daily Mail.
The episode begs a lot of interesting questions, not the least of which is, “Why are so many athletes good friends with a French extremist comedian named Dieudonne M’Bala Bala?” The answer to that particular question will have to remain a mystery, but I had some speculative thoughts about what kind of statement the FA might make with a suspension and the implications going forward.
One of the endlessly fascinating aspects of following international soccer is that it provides a window of insight into other cultures that might not otherwise exist. Until a few days ago, I knew nothing about “la quenelle” and may have speculated that it was a French version of a popular horse-racing wager. In that regard, I can at least thank Anelka for making me aware of its meaning and making the gesture recognizable, since it also seems like tricking people into making the gesture and catching them on camera is all the rage. (Liverpool’s own Mamadou Sakho made the gesture but claims he was tricked into doing so.)
It comes as no surprise that Anelka’s primary argument in his defense is that the gesture was meant only as a salute to a friend and not in any way intended to offend. Luis Suarez used a similar defense of ignorance in the Patrice Evra incident and it fell on deaf ears. The Liverpool striker admits using a term that has negative racial connotations in English culture, but his claim that it is not offensive in his native tongue and was only in response to equally offensive comments directed to him by Evra was meaningless to the FA who levied an eight-match ban. After the Suarez incident, John Terry, possibly the worst human being on earth, received only a four-match ban for what was a virtually undeniable racial assault on Anton Ferdinand. For the record, I’m not trying to imply one way or the another whether Suarez’ claim was true but for the sake of argument assume the worst and it is still impossible to resolve the hypocrisy of Suarez receiving a ban that was twice as harsh as the one Terry received for the same offense.
As the Daily Mail article points out, Anelka’s gesture was intended for a mass audience and was not a personal insult to another player on the pitch. Since the FA set the “ignorance is no excuse” precedent it would seem to logically follow that Anelka will see a ban at minimum equal to the eight-match ban Suarez ultimately had to accept. Of course that might wrongly assume the FA will use any kind of logic or its own precedents in making such a decision. This is, after all, an organization that is no more consistent or accountable for their punitive actions than the NCAA.
Perhaps that final assessment is a bit cynical, as the FA did recently create rules to combat racist incidents that seem to dictate a minimum of a five-match ban. Anything less than eight-matches would still be hypocritical, but hopefully it is a legitimate indication that the FA are attempting to curtail some of their own subjective decisions in setting forth more concrete guidelines for suspensions. I remain skeptical that the FA will impose a ban on Anelka that equals the one that was imposed on Suarez after he was prejudiced by the media, but I am certainly interested to see how the ruling body uses this opportunity to make a statement. In the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Suarez doesn’t get caught jaywalking because I am certain he won’t receive any such benefit of the doubt from the FA in terms of leniency.