Racial discrimination and tension has plagued the world of football these last couple of years more so than most it seems – at least, the issues have surfaced to the headlines more, making the issues much more visible. The latest headlines are all concerning a gesture made by players, called La Quenelle in French, made by straightening one arm pointed to the ground and touching the hand of the other arm to the shoulder of the straightened arm. The gesture is seen as highly offensive and anti-semitic all over the world, and especially in Europe, according to The Times of Israel.
Anelka, who performed the ‘Quenelle’ after scoring a goal in his match against West Ham on Saturday, is not the only footballer who has been seen making the gesture in recent months. In fact, soccer is not the only professional sport that has seen the gesture used. Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri, Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho, and San Antonio Spurs’ point guard Tony Parker have all made the same gesture and have been brought into the conversation as well. According to an article on The Telegraph, Nasri and Sakho’s photos surfaced on the social networking site Twitter in November of this year, and the images shown were not of the players performing the gesture in live game play, rather with friends off the pitch. Basketball star Tony Parker’s photo was from a September Twitter post, though Parker stated that the picture was from “three years ago”, but only recently has he come under scrutiny, as with Nasri and Sakho, due to the heightened attention brought to the issue from Anelka’s gesture made in a televised match.
Nasri responded to the press and questions he received about the gesture via several tweets, posted on ESPNFC:
Liverpool’s Sakho had similar remarks about his photo that had surfaced of him making the gesture, according to ESPNFC:
This photo was taken six months ago, I did not know the meaning of this gesture. I was tricked.
Tony Parker released a statement on Monday claiming his innocence over the issue and that he had no idea about the racial undertones associated with the gesture.
“While this gesture has been part of French culture for many years, it was not until recently that I learned of the very negative concerns associated with it. When l was photographed making that gesture three years ago, I thought it was part of a comedy act and did not know that it could be in any way offensive or harmful. Since I have been made aware of the seriousness of this gesture, I will certainly never repeat the gesture and sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding or harm relating to my actions. Hopefully this incident will serve to educate others that we need to be more aware that things that may seem innocuous can actually have a history of hate and hurt.”
All of the these athletes are French (Parker was born in Belgium, but raised in France), and both Anelka and Parker are friends, or at least acquaintances, with a French comedian known for making the gesture, Dieudonné M’bala. Parker’s photo was originally from a tweet from Dieudonné, and Anelka maintains that he performed the ‘Quenelle’ in his match against West Ham as “a dedication to Dieudonné”. Sakho’s photo of him performing the gesture is with a man that bears a striking resemblance to Dieudonné though it was not captioned by The Telegraph to say specifically that it was indeed him in the picture. If it is indeed him in the picture with Sakho, he would be the common link to 3 of the 4 incidents. The controversial French comedian is credited by most to have invented the ‘Quenelle’ as an “anti-system” or “anti-establishment” gesture, and has been convicted six times for “defamation, causing offence and inciting racial hatred”, and has been fined in the total amount of £53,400 ($88.3k).
French Sports Minister Valérie Fourneyron has condemned Anelka as a racist for performing the ‘Quenelle’, to which Anelka has replied:
This is a dedication to Dieudonné. With regard to the ministers who give their own interpretations of my quenelle, they are the ones that create confusion and controversy without knowing what it really means, this gesture. I ask people not to be duped by the media. And of course, I am neither racist nor anti-Semitic and I fully assume (stand by) my gesture.
British football governing body, the FA, has launched an investigation into the matter and Anelka could be facing the minimum 5-match ban tied to racial acts under FA law along with potential fines. It is clear that this issue is not an isolated one, and racism as an issue in professional sports, and soccer in particular, is rapidly becoming more pressing for authorities and governing bodies to deal with. Examples have already been made of in some cases in Turkey, Russia, and other countries where the fans have been banned for several matches for racist remarks towards players, but short-term bans do not seem to be stifling the issue with the desired effect. More is needed.