The “quenelle” gesture used by Nicolas Anelka has sparked controversy in the media and raised serious question marks for sponsors with lucrative agreements in place.

The ‘quenelle’ has been declared as an anti-Semitic gesture by many and was the trigger for Zoopla (co-owned by Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman) to publicly announce on the 20th January their intention to bring to an end their shirt sponsorship agreement with West Bromich Albion at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season.

Anelka defended the sign as being “anti-system” and “just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonne”.
What rather dents Anelka’s defence is that the said Dieudonne has previously been found guilty of making anti-Semitic speeches in France.

The FA investigation included the appointment of an expert to interpret the ‘quenelle’ gesture. His findings alongside the requisite FA disciplinary procedure returned a charge of misconduct which carried with it a 5 game suspension penalty.

The two high profile incidents involving John Terry and Anton Ferdinand and Luis Suarez and Patrick Evra where allegations of racist remarks made by Terry and Suarez prompted the FA to add specific regulations to the 2013-14 regulatory provisions.  The Anelka episode has been the first instance that the FA has utilised the redrafted regulations. Anelka was charged with Misconduct under Section E of the FA Rules of Association. Paragraph E3(1) under terms of General Behaviour stipulates a player must not:-

“act in a manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.”

An aggravated breach of regulation E3(1) compels the FA Regulatory Commission on finding a player guilty to impose a minimum suspension of five matches.
Anelka is not the first athlete to land themselves in hot water with sponsors; Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong lost many of their headline sponsors following the former’s infidelity and the latter’s doping indiscretions.

Most sponsors attempt to proactively protect themselves from foreseeable breaches of ‘morality’ by having their legal advisors draft specific clauses into their sponsorship agreements with an athlete. ‘Disrepute’ or ‘Morality’ clauses are brought into play by a triggering event which brings the individual, club and/or sponsor into disrepute, or if an athlete’s behaviour falls below expected levels of morality.

Coca-Cola had the foresight to construct such a clause under which Lance Armstrong provided contractual warranties assuring Coca-Cola that he was free from performance-enhancing drugs. When the US Anti-Doping Agency announced that Armstrong had led “the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme sport has ever seen”, Coca-Cola were able to terminate their deal with the 7-times Tour de France winner without recourse to Litigation. In contrast the insurance company SCA Promotions are locked in a legal dispute with Armstrong’s legal team in an effort to recoup $12m in bonuses which the firm paid out for his wins between 2002-2004.

We at Blacks have a specialist Sports Law team dealing with all legal sporting matters.