LONDON (AP) — West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka will face an English Football Association disciplinary hearing after formally denying a racism charge for celebrating a goal with a gesture deemed anti-Semitic.
Anelka has repeatedly insisted that his use of the gesture, which is known in France as a "quenelle" and has been described as an "inverted Nazi salute," was not anti-Semitic.
The former France international faces a minimum five-match ban if he is found guilty.
The FA said Anelka requested a personal hearing at which a panel will have to assess the meaning of the "quenelle."
Earlier on Thursday, Anelka received the public backing of French performer Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bal, who popularized the "quenelle."
"Nicolas Anelka has all my support, that's evident," Dieudonne told British broadcaster Sky News. "I consider him a brother in humanity. He's someone who is very courageous and for whom I have very much respect and admiration."
Dieudonne, who has already agreed to abandon a controversial show that is banned in several French cities after angering the government, has been held by French police for questioning twice in the last two days.
A bailiff who delivered documents demanding that Dieudonne pay back taxes said he was shot at with rubber balls from Dieudonne's house west of Paris, according to the regional prosecutor's office. Dieudonne, who has denied wrongdoing, was released both times without charge.
Anelka, who performed the "quenelle" as he celebrated scoring in West Brom's 3-3 draw with West Ham in the Premier League on Dec. 28, has seen his defense against the charge weakened after a French Jewish community leader withdrew his support.
The player had responded to this week's FA charge by highlighting through his Facebook and Twitter accounts how the Jewish organization which represents France's estimated 500,000 Jews said the gesture was not offensive because it was performed on a football field rather than in front of a Jewish site or Holocaust memorial.
But Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions President Roger Cukierman has backpedalled on his earlier comments, now stressing that the gesture is "an inversed Hitler salute." Cukierman said he was "troubled" Anelka dedicated his quenelle to French performer Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, "whose own motives are incontestably anti-Semitic."
"It must be noted that the quenelle gesture has spread dangerously among our fellow citizens and especially among young people," Cukierman said on his organization's website. "I was disappointed by Anelka's attitude, whose behavior is the opposite of that which should be shown by a top-class athlete to the youths of our country."
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton and AP Sports Writer John Leicester in Paris contributed to this report.