Nicolas Anelka has refused to apologise for his controversial quenelle gesture and denied any anti-Semitic intent behind the celebration.
The French striker faces a potential minimum five-match ban for the gesture, made during West Bromwich Albion's 3-3 draw with West Ham on Saturday and which has subsequently been described as "disgusting" by France's minister for sport, Valérie Fourneyron.
In a series of tweets, Anelka has defended his actions, saying the quenelle celebration was intended to be anti-establishment. He tweeted: "I do not know what the word religion has to do with this story. This quenelle is a dedication to my friend [the comedian] Dieudonné. With regard to the ministers who have given their own interpretations of my quenelle … they are the ones that create confusion and controversy without knowing what this gesture really means. I ask people not to be duped by the media … And of course, I am neither a racist nor an anti-Semite."
The striker has been at the centre of a storm since he was spotted doing the quenelle, described by some as a "reverse Nazi salute", while celebrating the first of his two goals for West Brom at Upton Park. The Football Association has confirmed it is investigating the matter alongside Kick It Out and it is possible that under anti-discriminatory rules introduced by the governing body in May, Anelka could be banned for five matches.
That sanction could be extended, however, depending on "aggravating" factors and there remains the possibility of Uefa getting involved and handing Anelka a lengthy ban itself under Article 14 of their own disciplinary regulations. Those state that "any person who insults the human dignity of a person or group of persons … on the grounds of skin colour, race, religion or ethnic origin, incurs a suspension lasting at least 10 matches." That, however, would only kick in should Anelka join a club playing in Uefa competitions.
Anelka has confirmed that by placing his left arm across his chest while keeping his right arm pointed downwards, he was indeed recreating the quenelle, but insisted on Twitter that it was a "special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonné." Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala, however, is well known in France for maintaining anti-Semitic views and for having come up with the quenelle, which he first used in 2009 while standing in the European elections for an anti-Zionist party. The 47-year-old has insisted that the gesture is meant as an anti-establishment protest and is not directed specifically at the Jewish community, but it has been described as "the sodomisation of victims of the Holocaust" by Alain Jakubowicz, the president of the French league against racism and antisemitism. Dieudonné has reportedly started legal proceedings against Jakubowicz for libel. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has described the quenelle as "antisemitic" and says Dieudonné "has form for race hate".
France's interior minister, Manuel Valls, is now considering whether to ban all public appearances by Dieudonné, who has been fined a number of times for hate speech, with the controversy surrounding Anelka's celebration hardly likely to help the so-called comedian's cause.
"Anelka's gesture is a shocking, disgusting provocation," said Fourneyron. "There is no place for antisemitism and incitement to hatred on the football pitch."
Anelka, who converted to Islam in 2004, has received the support of his club, with the West Brom caretaker manager, Keith Downing, describing the controversy surrounding his celebration as "rubbish" in the aftermath of Saturday's fixture. "I'm aware of it but it is dedicated to a French comedian he [Anelka] knows well," said Downing.
The quenelle outrage overshadowed an excellent display by Anelka at the weekend, when the 34-year-old scored his first goals for West Brom since joining the club on a free transfer in the summer. A lengthy-ban could ultimately signal the end of what has been a consistently controversial career, which included his expulsion from the 2010 France World Cup squad in South Africa for verbally attacking the then head coach Raymond Domenech.
Anelka is not the first footballer who has been photographed doing the quenelle, with Manchester City's Samir Nasri and Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho having also performed the gesture.
Sakho later insisted that he did not know what it meant. "I was tricked," said the defender.