Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dubai Tarnishes Golden Sports Hopes; Denies Israeli Tennis Star Visa

The WTA has been gambling since 2001 when it decided to stage a tournament in the United Arab Emirates. This year it came up snake eyes when Dubai barred Israeli tennis star Shahar Pe'er from competing in this week's Barclay's Dubai Tennis Championships. In the months leading up to the tournament, Pe'er had received assurances that she would be allowed to play. Last year, she became the first Israeli athlete to play in a Gulf state when she played in a WTA event in Qatar. She was informed on Saturday that she would not be granted a visa to enter Dubai to participate in the tournament.

The WTA was apparently taken by surprise as well, since it had included Pe'er in the draw. To its credit, WTA Chairman and CEO Larry Scott released a statement that was strongly supportive of Pe'er and called into question the future of the Dubai tournament:

"We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the UAE denying Shahar Pe'er a visa that would permit her to enter the country to play in the Dubai Tennis Championships. Ms. Pe'er has earned the right to play in the tournament and it is regrettable that the UAE is denying her this right.

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour believes very strongly, and has a clear rule and policy, that no host country should deny a player the right to compete at a tournament for which she has qualified by ranking,

The Tour is reviewing appropriate remedies for Ms. Pe'er and also will review appropriate future actions with regard to the future of the Dubai tournament."

“All the players support Shahar,” American tennis champion Venus Williams told the New York Times. “We are all athletes, and we stand for tennis.”

It's likely now that Dubai has limited not only its ability to host WTA events but future events in other sports as well. While Israel does not have nearly as many friends in other international governing bodies, perhaps the precedent has been set, and no barring of athletes merely on the ground of their Israeli passport will be permitted if events are awarded to Dubai in the future. It is also likely that in the continuing contest between rivals Qatar and Dubai, Qatar has just won a major international sporting victory.

Cross-posted from SportsBiz-The Business of Sports Illuminated

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