London (AFP) - Nicolas Anelka's future in English football was in the balance Thursday after he was given a five-match ban for making the controversial 'quenelle' salute which was widely condemned as anti-Semitic.
The Football Association said they were convinced that Anelka is not an anti-Semite and that he was not promoting anti-Semitism by his use of the gesture.
However, he was nevertheless guilty of an "aggravated breach" of FA rules for making the 'quenelle' while playing for West Bromwich Albion in a Premier League match away to West Ham on December 28.
As a result, the 34-year-old French striker was banned and fined Â£80,000 (97,468 euros, $133,368).
Anelka was also ordered to complete a "compulsory education course" although he does have the right of appeal.
The former France international forward made the 'quenelle' after scoring the first of his two goals in a 3-3 draw at Upton Park.
Anelka always denied the gesture was anti-Semitic or that he himself was a racist.
Even so, he was banned by a disciplinary panel chaired by leading lawyer Christopher Quinlan following a hearing in Watford, north of London.
The quenelle, described as an inverted Nazi salute, has been popularised by French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, a friend of Anelka's and who has been prosecuted in France for various racial offences.
Anelka maintained his goal celebration was an anti-establishment gesture in support of Dieudonne and in a Twitter post in December denied there was any prejudiced intent on his part.
"I do not know what religion has to do with this story", he wrote, adding that "of course I am neither racist nor anti-Semitic".
Earlier this month, Dieudonne was banned from entering the United Kingdom after the Home Office, Britain's interior ministry, made him the subject of an exclusion order.
Anelka does though remain free to play for the time being, with a FA statement Thursday saying: "Mr Anelka has the right to appeal the decision.
"Mr Anelka must notify the FA of his intention to appeal within seven days of receipt of the written reasons.
"The penalty is suspended until after the outcome of any appeal, or the time for appealing expires, or Mr Anelka notifies the FA of his decision not to appeal."
Although the commission accepted Anelka was not anti-Semitic, they still felt his use of the 'quenelle' was sufficiently serious for him to be given a five-match ban, the minimum suspension that could have been imposed under the FA's new anti-discrimination code.
West Brom, who saw their main sponsor opt against renewing their contract as a result of the fall out from Anelka's gesture, are currently just one point above the Premier League relegation zone with 11 games of the season left.
The Midlands club's next match is at home to champions Manchester United on March 8.