The French striker performed the gesture, which is known in his homeland as a “quenelle” and has been described as an “inverted Nazi salute,” during a Premier League match in December.
Although an FA disciplinary panel backed Anelka’s insistence that he was not being intentionally anti-Semitic, performing the gesture was still found to be racist and abusive.
Anelka, who appeared at the hearing this week, received the minimum five-game ban for racism offenses and also was fined £80,000 ($133,000) and ordered to complete an education course. Anelka can appeal, and he must decide within seven days of receiving the panel’s written reasons.
But West Brom responded to the verdict by suspending him while the central England club conducts an internal investigation and awaits the conclusion of the FA process.
“The club acknowledges that the FA panel ‘did not find that Nicolas Anelka is an anti-Semite or that he intended to express or promote anti-Semitism by his use of the quenelle,’” West Brom said in a statement. “However, the club cannot ignore the offense that his actions have caused, particularly to the Jewish community, nor the potential damage to the club’s reputation.”
The panel found Anelka guilty of two charges — that the gesture “was abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper,” and it was racially offensive.
“The misconduct was an ‘aggravated breach’ … in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief,” the FA verdict said.
Anelka’s legal team said he was “pleased” to be cleared of anti-Semitism.
“He is now waiting to receive the commission’s full reasons for their decision before considering whether or not to appeal,” the statement said.
Anelka performed the quenelle as he celebrated scoring in West Brom’s 3-3 draw with West Ham on Dec. 28. The gesture involves pointing one straightened arm downward while touching the shoulder with the opposite hand. It was popularized by French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, who has been convicted multiple times for inciting racial hatred or anti-Semitism.