Nicolas Anelka should face punishment for his controversial 'quenelle' goal celebration but the incident is not as serious as the racist abuse which Luis Suarez and John Terry were guilty of, according to a leading anti-racism campaigner.

Piara Powar, the executive director of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) anti-discrimination network, said Anelka's salute had highlighted the growing influence of far-right groups in football.

The West Brom striker's gesture after scoring against West Ham on Saturday is under investigation by the Football Association. The 'quenelle' - which translates literally as 'dumpling' in English - was brought to prominence by French comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, who has been prosecuted for anti-Semitism.

Powar said: "The rise of the far right is one of the most dangerous phenomena facing Europe right now. Whether these are groups of anti-Semites like Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, Islamophobic groups like the EDL (English Defence League) or the more usual white power street skinheads, they are active and alive in football.

"In that context alone it was disappointing to see someone like Anelka make the quenelle gesture.

"The English FA now has rules against acts by players of this kind and Anelka will no doubt be punished.

"The gesture made by Anelka is damaging but in my view it is not the same as the abuse meted out by Luis Suarez and John Terry. The context and intent is an important distinguisher."

Both Liverpool striker Suarez and Chelsea defender Terry were banned in 2012 for racially abusing opponents - for eight and four matches respectively,

The quenelle is claimed by some to be an inverted Nazi salute and to have anti-Semitic connotations, and Anelka has promised not to repeat the goal celebration.

Montpellier defender Mathieu Deplagne, Manchester City's Samir Nasri, Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho and NBA basketball star Tony Parker have all been pictured making the salute, but all deny any anti-Semitic connotations.

Powar warned however that it was still "dangerous".

He added: "The fact that the players may have been conned into mimicking something in support of a friend makes it no less a dangerous gesture.

"There is a wider and important context of the rise of someone like Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala. French race politics and the way in which race plays an increasing part of life in France, are becoming distorted and murky. Many believe that the French integrationist approach to racial diversity is failing.

"No doubt part of the appeal of something like the quenelle is that it has also come to be seen as anti- establishment."

QPR's on-loan Tottenham defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto reportedly sent a tweet of support to Anelka, while it has also been said he has previously tweeted M'Bala M'Bala and invited him to a Spurs game.

There is no evidence of such tweets on his account now, though, but Tottenham said in a statement: "The matter has been discussed with the player and, while he meant no offence by his post, he accepts this was ill-advised and deleted the tweet."