Football: West Brom lose sponsor over Anelka gesture

West Bromwich Albion's Nicolas Anelka looks on during their English Premier League soccer match against Everton at The Hawthorns in West Bromwich, central England on Jan 20, 2014. West Bromwich Albion announced Monday they would not renew their deal
West Bromwich Albion's Nicolas Anelka looks on during their English Premier League soccer match against Everton at The Hawthorns in West Bromwich, central England on Jan 20, 2014. West Bromwich Albion announced Monday they would not renew their deal at the end of the season in the wake of Anelka's controversial 'quenelle' gesture. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - The sponsor of English Premier League club West Bromwich Albion announced Monday they would not renew their deal at the end of the season in the wake of striker Nicolas Anelka's controversial 'quenelle' gesture.

Lawrence Hall, head of communications for property website Zoopla, said: "In recent weeks we have decided to re-evaluate this sponsorship and as a result we will focus our attention on other marketing activities from the end of the season."

However, West Brom tried to downplay the impact of Zoopla's move by saying they had long been preparing to seek another sponsor.

"West Bromwich Albion has been fully aware since the sponsorship agreement came into force in June 2012 that its partnership with Zoopla could expire this summer and therefore has been planning accordingly," a club statement said.

"Zoopla has today (Monday) informed the club in writing that it does not wish to extend its sponsorship deal. The club will now actively seek a new official sponsor for next season."

Former France striker Anelka, 34, sparked a media storm last month when he celebrated the first of his two goals in West Brom's 3-3 league draw at West Ham United by putting one arm across his chest and straightening the other in a gesture interpreted by some as anti-Semitic.

The 'quenelle', popularised by French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, has been described by critics in France as an 'inverted Nazi salute', but Anelka has insisted that it was merely "a dedication" to the comic.

M'bala M'bala, better known simply as Dieudonne, says the gesture is anti-establishment and not anti-Semitic.

Earlier this month, England's governing Football Association (FA) said no decision on whether Anelka would face disciplinary action would be announced until this Monday, Jan 20, at the earliest, a move which saw the FA criticised by anti-discrimination group Kick it Out for the time it was taking.

West Brom's sporting and technical director, Richard Garlick, speaking before reports emerged last week over the future of Zoopla's sponsorship, also urged the FA to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

"It would help everyone for that investigation to be over as soon as possible, and the FA have given their statement about how quickly they will do that."

Marketing Week magazine said Zoopla, co-owned by Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman, could pull out of a deal worth a reported 3 million pounds (S$6.2 million) over two years and the largest in West Brom's history, should Anelka play against Everton later on Monday.

But it added "one source close to the matter" had told them it was likely Anelka, who has continued to be selected by West Brom since making the gesture, would play against Everton, with the Midlands side determined not to let sponsors dictate team selection.

And Anelka was included in the starting side announced shortly before kick-off to play Everton.

Under new rules introduced last May, Anelka faces a minimum five-match ban if the FA decides he is guilty of discrimination.

If Anelka is banned, Albion could find themselves without two forwards following Friday's transfer of Shane Long to Premier League rivals Hull City, and with little time to bring in a replacement before the January window shuts.

West Brom are currently just three points above the relegation zone and Monday's match at the club's Hawthorns ground will be their first under new Spanish coach Pepe Mel.