Le sigh. Why is this still happening in 2009?
I’m sure you’ve already heard about the madness going on in Dubai: Shahar Peer was denied a visa to enter the United Arab Emirates even though SEWTA head Larry Scott had discussed with the tournament — essentially run by the government — that any player who qualifies to play must be able to do so.
The 45th-ranked Peer did qualify, and was already set to play a first-round match against Anna Chakvetadze. After this last-minute development, lucky loser Ayumi Morita replaced her in the draw.
While there was no exact reason from the government about the visa denial, organizers cited anti-Israeli public opinion in light of the Gaza conflict, the risk of a spectator boycott, and a potential threat to the well-being of a player.
Wall Street Journal Europe, a sponsor of the event, pulled out of its sponsorship obligations. Title sponsor Barclays, though, is sticking to their guns and backing the decision to keep Peer out of the event.
Stateside, Tennis Channel has dropped its coverage of the tournament. Here’s the statement from CEO and Chairman Ken Solomon:
Tennis Channel regrets to inform our viewers and tennis fans that we are canceling our upcoming coverage of the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships in Dubai, U.A.E, originally scheduled for this weekend. Unfortunately the event will exclude a single player who has been blocked from entering the country due to her nationality. This is despite her having qualified for the competition via her on-court performance and current ranking.
“Tennis Channel recognizes that this exclusion has been made by state authorities and neither the tour nor tournament directors themselves. However we also honor the role and proud tradition that tennis has always played as a driving force for inclusion both on and off the courts. Preventing an otherwise qualified athlete from competing on the basis of anything other than merit has no place in tennis or any other sport, and has the unfortunate result of undermining the credibility of the very nature of competition itself.”
Meanwhile, other SEWTA players are siding with Shahar even as they play the tournament (Venus Williams, Amelie Mauresmo). I’m not sure that the solution would have been to boycott the event completely since we don’t know why Shahar was denied a visa. But if it comes to light that the government is simply being intolerant, then the WTA and its players must be sure to skip Dubai next year.
We had such high hopes, especially since Peer got to play in Doha last year. TSF hopes that Dubai makes the right move and allows Israeli player Andy Ram to play in the ATP’s Dubai stop next week.