This afternoon Nicolas Anelka was found guilty by an FA hearing for his “Quenelle” gesture and has been banned for five matches. Five. Unbelievable. Not only are the FA once again proving to be inconsistent in their verdicts of guilty or not guilty but they’re also inconsistent in the severity of their punishments.
Rewind back to the Premier League’s last incident involving a player and racism. It was Luis Suarez’s verbal abuse of Patrice Evra two seasons ago. The Uruguayan was banned for eight games. Many would argue that eight games wasn’t enough, let alone the five game ban given to Anelka. However, what’s even more amazing is that the FA, in making this decision, has managed to find a difference in the severity of the two crimes. If they deemed them both equally serious, the punishment would also be equal. There may have been other incidents before the Suarez case but when the FA brandished him with an eight game suspension, that should have really set a precedent. Therefore, any offences that fell into the “racism” category would be treated exactly the same.
The only differences between the two incidents is that one was direct verbal abuse to an opposition player on the same pitch whereas Anelka’s action was merely a gesture and which didn’t cause any immediate offence to anyone on the pitch or in the stands. In fact, nobody in the media in this country had any idea as to the meaning or implications of the gesture until the French media went into uproar. However, this doesn’t make it any less serious. Racism is racism. It doesn’t have a place in football, nor any other walk of life.
With that being said, those who are found guilty of racism also don’t belong in the game. If a supporter in the stands made a racist gesture like that or decided to chant or shout out racist remarks or songs (regardless of whether or not they were aiming it at a player, fan or anyone else in the stadium) and were found out, they’d more than likely be banned for life from attending matches and rightly so. However, the same seemingly doesn’t go for the players. After those five games have passed and Anelka is once again eligible to play, you wouldn’t bet against him pulling on the Baggies’ shirt again at some point in the remaining games of the season. Despite having played no part in the first team for a couple of months prior to this decision to suspend him, West Brom are a club in grave danger and may well need him. Pepe Mel would be very brave to try and battle the drop whilst deciding against playing a striker of Anelka’s calibre.
For players who’ve made such misdemeanours, there really shouldn’t be any way back. Certainly not in this country. Due to Anelka’s actions, Zoopla (West Brom’s kit sponsors) have already announced that they will be severing all ties with the club at the end of the season. Therefore, West Brom will lose out on their money and will have to look for another sponsor and this might not be easy given what’s happened. Luis Suarez, despite racially abusing Patrice Evra and then biting Branislav Ivanovic a year or so later, is still the golden boy of Anfield. The same player who was castigated for staining the proud reputation of the famous club is now adored by almost all Liverpool fans once again. Joey Barton, who was banned for twelve games for kicking out at several Manchester City players a couple of years ago, is now a regular for QPR having spent a year in France. The reason being that all these players have returned is that the FA has made it possible for them to return due to their light punishments.
Certainly, there needs to be a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to racism. In any other profession, committing an offence as severe as any of these would probably get the offender sacked and their future job prospects would be ruined. Footballers seem to be bulletproof by comparison. Only in football can you seemingly racially abuse or assault a fellow professional and be back on the pitch and playing again in the same year.