When West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka exposed British soccer fans to the quasi-Nazi salute now sweeping his native France, Jewish groups were confident a strong response was coming.
After all, Britain is considered a leader in the fight against xenophobia in sports thanks to its successful education programs and the tough stance of its soccer institutions, courts and police.
But their confidence has been shaken by the refusal of British soccer bosses to condemn Anelka for performing the quenelle in a match against West Ham on Dec. 28.
The quenelle, which many believe is designed to test the limits of laws banning explicit expressions of anti-Semitism, was invented by the French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has multiple convictions against him for inciting racial hatred of Jews.
Dieudonne says the quenelle is an anti-establishment gesture and denies that it is anti-Semitic. Anelka said much the same in a series of Twitter posts defending his actions, writing that he was neither a racist nor an anti-Semite and had performed the quenelle as “tribute to my comedian friend Dieudonne.”
But while French leaders were quick to condemn Anelka — France’s minister for sports, Valerie Fourneyron, called Anelka’s gesture disgusting and anti-Semitic within hours of the match — Britain’s Football Association and its main partner in combating soccer racism have resisted calls to follow suit.
The nonprofit Kick It Out, which partners with the FA in fighting racism, issued a statement on Dec. 28 saying only that it was aware of the incident and offered its support to the Football Association in any investigation.
Kick It Out spokesman Richard Bates declined to comment further, telling JTA that the matter is under investigation.
A spokesman for the Football Association also declined to comment.