UK & World News
Anelka 'Quenelle' Hearing Is Major Case For FA
The hearing into Nicolas Anelka's allegedly anti-Semitic "quenelle" gesture begins later with the Football Association putting its case that the Frenchman should receive a minimum five-match ban.
In front of a three-man independent panel chaired by a QC, the hearing is a major test case for the FA's new anti-discrimination regulations, and is expected to last at least three days at an undisclosed location.
Anelka is charged with racially aggravated misconduct after he performed the straight-arm gesture as a goal celebration after scoring for West Bromwich Albion against West Ham in December.
The forward claimed the gesture was made in solidarity with its inventor, the French comedian and provocateur Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, with whom he is friends.
Dieudonne's critics, including the French government, argue that the "quenelle" is in fact an inverted Nazi salute and is anti-Semitic.
Anelka has not spoken publicly about the case, but has used social media to deny he is racist or anti-Semitic.
The comedian is a deeply controversial figure in France, with multiple convictions for inciting racial hatred after repeatedly making anti-Semitic comments during his stage shows.
His most recent tour was effectively banned by the government after the interior minister urged local authorities to prevent him appearing in a number of cities.
Home Secretary Theresa May banned Dieudonne from entering the UK after he said he would travel in support of Anelka, but offered no specific reason for his exclusion.
The comedian and his supporters say the "quenelle" is not racist, but an anti-establishment gesture, and that his comments about Jews are part of a pattern of challenging taboos.
Dieudonne's fans and supporters have posted numerous pictures online of the gesture being performed at sites of significance to Jewish people, including holocaust memorials and Auschwitz.
He denies he is racist, and told Sky News he did not understand why people performed the gesture at such sensitive locations.
Anelka will argue the gesture is not anti-Semitic in intent, and that he was simply showing solidarity with his friend.
The FA called on expert academic advice when it considered whether to charge Anelka, and will argue the "quenelle" is clearly offensive and constitutes racially aggravated misconduct.
If found guilty he will receive a minimum ban of five matches, though he could receive longer.
Anelka will argue the case should never have been brought, and claim the FA's expert advice is flawed.
The five-match tariff was introduced at the start of this season to try to clarify the FA's approach to racist incidents in the wake of cases involving John Terry and Luis Suarez.
They received bans of four and eight matches respectively for racially abusing opponents, and the new rules are intended to provide a framework for a more uniform response.
Anelka's case promises to be complex however, with the FA panel having to weigh interpretation and the complexities of French racial politics against what is appropriate conduct on an English football field.
The FA hopes to publish the panel's judgement by Friday. If found guilty Anelka has the right to appeal.
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