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Nicolas Anelka defends 'shocking' on-field gesture

updated 11:15 AM EST, Sun December 29, 2013
Nicolas Anelka denied making an anti-Semitic gesture on Saturday but the French government criticized the striker.
Nicolas Anelka denied making an anti-Semitic gesture on Saturday but the French government criticized the striker.
  • Nicolas Anelka under fire for making an alleged anti-Semitic gesture after scoring goal
  • Anelka said on Twitter that it was a "special dedication" to a comedian friend, Dieudonne
  • The French Sports Minister condemned Anelka, calling his gesture "disgusting"
  • Anelka was thrown out of the 2010 World Cup after allegedly insulting his manager

(CNN) -- Soccer star Nicolas Anelka has sparked controversy after making a gesture one French government official called "shocking" and "disgusting."

After he scored his first goal for West Bromwich Albion in Saturday's 3-3 draw at West Ham in the English Premier League, the former France international pointed his right arm straight down and touched that arm with his left hand. The gesture is known as a "quenelle," but some have called it a Nazi salute in reverse.

Anelka took to Twitter and claimed the "gesture was just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonne" but the French government is seeking to ban Dieudonne for alleged anti-Semitic behavior.

French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron added on Twitter that there was no place for Anelka's gesture.

"Anelka's gesture is a shocking provocation, disgusting," she said. "There's no place for anti-Semitism on the football field."

West Brom's caretaker manager Keith Downing defended Anelka, who converted to Islam almost a decade ago, when he spoke to reporters following the match.

"It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very, very well," Downing said. "I think speculation can be stopped now. It is absolute rubbish really."

However, the European Jewish Congress called for English authorities to punish Anelka.

"This salute is merely a lesser known Nazi salute and we expect the same kind of punishment to be handed down by the authorities as if Anelka had made the infamous outstretched arm salute," its president Dr. Moshe Kantor said in a statement on Sunday.

"This salute was created by a well-known extreme anti-Semite who has displayed his hatred of Jews, mocked the Holocaust and Jewish suffering.

"It is sickening that such a well-known footballer would make such an abusive and hateful gesture in front of tens of thousands of spectators. There should be no room for such intolerance and racism in sports and we expect that the English Premier League officials as well as the police will give Anelka the appropriate punishment."

The EPL has yet to comment on the incident, but British media reported that the English Football Association would investigate it.

This isn't the first time Anelka -- who has played for the likes of Juventus, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Arsenal in a 19-year career -- has been involved in controversy.

He earned the nickname of "Le Sulk" due to his body language and was thrown out of the 2010 World Cup by France after he allegedly insulted then coach Raymond Domenech at halftime during a defeat against Mexico.

Anelka was later banned for 18 matches by the French Football Federation, and in response he announced his international retirement. He had been part of France's European Championship-winning squad in 2000.

At Real Madrid he allegedly once refused to train and was banned by the Spanish club for 45 days.

Anelka is now playing for his sixth English club, having left Chelsea in January 2012 for a big-money move to Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua.

He lasted just a year there before going to Italy for a five-month loan with Juventus, which won a second successive Serie A title.

The 34-year-old had a difficult start to his time at West Brom, which was marred by the death of his agent in August.

The West Ham game was his first appearance since late October, and he scored his first goals for the club in what was his eighth outing.

West Brom, which sacked manager Steve Clarke this month after a poor run of results, is 15th in the 20-team EPL.

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