The English Football Association charged Nicolas Anelka on Tuesday for making a “quenelle” salute after scoring for West Bromwich Albion against West Ham United in the Premier League last month.
The gesture is widely regarded as being anti-Semitic and the FA charged the former France international under Rule E3 for ‘making an abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper gesture.’
In a statement on their website (www.thefa.com), the FA added: “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.”
Anelka, 34, who has denied he used it in any derogatory way, has until 1800 GMT on Thursday to respond to the charge which carries a minimum five-game ban.
Whether the FA find him guilty or not, the gesture has already had repercussions.
West Brom’s shirt sponsor Zoopla, a property market search engine co-owned by Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman, announced on Monday they would not be renewing their three million pounds ($4.93 million) shirt sponsorship at the end of the season because of Anelka’s actions.
“Zoopla has been reviewing its position over the past few weeks in light of the actions of striker, Nicolas Anelka, during the match against West Ham over the Christmas period and has decided to focus its attention on other marketing activities after this season,” the company said in a statement.
The former France striker celebrated the first of his two goals against West Ham in a 3-3 draw at Upton Park with the “quenelle” - made famous by French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala as an “anti-establishment” salute. The comedian is a friend of Anelka’s.
It initially went unnoticed in England but the game was being shown live in France and the gesture was not lost on the French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron, who raised her concerns.
“Anelka’s gesture is a shocking provocation, disgusting,” she said on Twitter.
“There’s no place for anti-Semitism on the football field.”
Anti-Racism and Jewish groups had demanded that Anelka be charged and also criticised the FA over the length of time it took them to charge the player.
The former Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Paris St Germain striker has tried to play down the incident.
“This gesture was a special dedication to my friend Dieudonne,” Anelka said on Twitter the following day.
He was subsequently told by West Brom not to use it again to which he agreed, but has not apologised for his actions.
Anelka has played in all three of West Brom’s league matches since the incident but not scored, including Monday night’s 1-1 draw with Everton.