West Brom lose backing of sponsors Zoopla in row over Anelka goal celebration
The "quenelle" is seen by many as having anti-Semitic meaning
Zoopla is co-owned by Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman
West Bromwich Albion may have thought they had done smart business when signing Nicolas Anelka on a free transfer last year, but he cost them dear on Monday.
The Frenchman’s controversial “quenelle” gesture in December has prompted the club’s main sponsor to announce an end to their ongoing deal.
After weeks of inactivity because of injury, Anelka celebrated his first English Premier League (EPL) goals of the season, against West Ham, by making a gesture that many believe is a Nazi salute in reverse.
Linked to rising anti-Semitism in France, the “quenelle” has sat uncomfortably with West Brom’s club sponsors Zoopla, a property website co-owned by a Jewish businessman, Alex Chesterman.
On Monday, Zoopla said it will not renew its two-year deal beyond the end of the current season, so turning down the possibility of a one-year extension with the team lying thirteenth in the EPL.
“Zoopla has been reviewing its position over the past few weeks in light of the actions of striker, Nicolas Anelka, during the match against West Ham over the Christmas period and has decided to focus its attention on other marketing activities after this season,” the company said in a statement.
Anelka has insisted that the gesture, which involves pointing the right arm straight down and touching that arm with the left hand, was a dedication to his friend – controversial French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, with whom the move is widely associated.
“(The) meaning (of) quenelle: anti-system. I do not know what the word religion has to do with this story! Of course, I am neither racist nor anti-Semitic,” the footballer tweeted after the incident.
Media reports in England last week had suggested that Zoopla wanted Anelka to be dropped for Monday night’s match against Everton but the forward started a game that ended 1-1.
When West Brom announced the partnership with Zoopla in May 2012, an official described it as “the most comprehensive deal in the club’s history.”
The club reacted to Zoopla’s statement by saying it had been aware that the sponsorship deal could end at the end of the current season and so “has been planning accordingly”.
Anelka is not the only sports star to be embroiled in controversy over the “quenelle”.
Several other French athletes – basketballer Tony Parker as well as footballers Samir Nasri and Mamadou Sakho – all having apologized for any offense caused when they were pictured making the gesture.
It was popularized by Dieudonne, who ran in the European elections as an anti-Zionist and who has been fined several times in France for anti-Semitic commentary, a charge over which the 47-year-old faces an investigation by the Paris prosecutor’s office.
The French government recently banned one of Dieudonne’s live performances, successfully doing so in Nantes earlier this month despite some intense legal wrangling.
Anelka, meanwhile, is still waiting to hear his fate as the English Football Association concludes its investigation into the incident, which could result in a lengthy playing ban.
After making the gesture at an EPL match in London on December 28, Anelka agreed to a West Brom request to avoid any repetition of the gesture.