WHAT has a French fish dumpling to do with hate-mongering and racism in sports? A lot, apparently.
Quenelle, as the dumpling is called, is a regional French delicacy made from a mixture of creamed fish, chicken or meat, sometimes combined with breadcrumbs with a light egg binding. And strange as it may seem, the name of this Gallic wonton has been thrust into the spotlight by a raging controversy over the way some sports stars celebrate their goal-scoring feats.
Apart from being a French food item, a quenelle is also used to describe a gesture considered racially hateful to those it is aimed at. This should not come as any big surprise since the gesture takes the form of a traditional Nazi salute and is, thus, widely criticised as anti-Semitic.
The menacing hand gesture was invented and popularised by French comedian M’Bala M’Bala, also known by his stage name – Dieudonné. It is clearly nothing very nice and appears quite common in the sports arena nowadays.
NBA star Tony Parker and a teammate, Boris Diaw — both French — have been slammed for making the gesture. Parker has since apologised, claiming he did not know “the very negative concerns associated with it until recently.”
Of late, a top French footballer, Nicolas Anelka, playing for West Brom Albion, ran foul of the FA for performing a quenelle when celebrating the goal he scored against West Ham in an EPL match.
Anelka, like other French sports luminaries and stage celebrities, who have been seen performing the quenelle, remain adamant that the gesture is neither a racial slur nor anti-Semitic but the sports and entertainment authorities are not amused, noting the spread of the hate-inciting practice with increasing alarm. Just what can be done to stop the gesture is not entirely clear. Outlawing it is not likely to do much to staunch the anti-Semitism that is apparently often behind it.
Jewish leaders, anti-racism groups and public officials have pointed to the resemblance of the quenelle to a downward-facing Nazi salute. But its inventor insists the gesture is nothing more than an “anti-system” joke for his supporters — mostly young people said to be from disaffected immigrant suburbs or the “xenophobic far right.”
In France, state intervention in matters such as instigating hate and racism is traditional. Racist speech there is strongly restricted by law and last week French Interior Minister Manuel Valls made known his intention to ban M’Bala M’Bala from performing in the country.
Valls’decision was prompted by a video show in which M’Bala M’Bala lamented that “a prominent Jewish journalist did not die in the gas chambers.”
Under French law, such words will probably be deemed “incitement to racial hatred.”
Valls said: “Creative freedom is certainly important but in the case of Dieudonné, it’s about hate. And the responsibility of a minister is to say stop that’s enough because he (Dieudonné) is having success in his shows on the Internet and his audience members need to have a realisation.”
African-American athletes such as the great Jesse Owens had thumped their nose at the Aryan ideal, providing indisputable proof that every human being — black white or yellow – has the potential to achieve sporting greatness if given the chance to compete on a level playing field. Owens won four gold medals — in the 100M, 200M, long jump and 4x100M relay at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Nazi Germany.
Racial discrimination against black (or coloured) athletes was not only limited to the Third Reich as racism had also reared its ugly head on the sportsfields in the US. An American track and field coach once noted that his black athletes’ ability to sprint and jump was akin to a life-and-death matter in the jungle.
Recently, a controversy erupted over an image depicting US president Barack Obama and singer Beyonce performing the offensive la quenelle gesture but they were, in reality, merely brushing the dirt off their shoulders.
Of course, there will be no sports without the people. So it is important to acknowledge that sports, as one of the biggest institutions in many societies, is an integral part of society and thus reflects the behaviour of society.
Racism occurs in both team and individual sports. But the sport itself does not induce racism. It is the participants who are the culprits as they bring racism into sports.
Quenelle is, no doubt, a delicious food, often served with cream sauce and run under the salamander grill. But it also has an extremely distasteful side.
So when served with the variety of this French fish dumpling that comes with hate and racist stuffings, it is wise not to bite off more than you can chew.
Here we remember the government of France helped perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda.