Something’s really shitty is happening when one player from Israel gets bumped at a tennis tournament and another is allowed to play. Such is the case at the annual Dubai Tennis Championships when Israeli female tennis star Shahar Peer was denied a visa to play there, while her male colleague, Andy Ram, was able to receive one. Last year, Israeli players, including Peer, didn’t have a problem playing in the tournament, which up to this year anyway appeared to be growing in standings, just like the Dubai Classic Annual Golf Tournament is, with big name golf professionals playing there.
Up to now, the Emirate city-state appeared to be one of the more liberal Arab countries with many Israeli businessmen able to go there and to conduct lucrative business deals, despite Dubai’s official non-recognition of Israel in the political arena. Coming on the heels of the recent military actions between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, and the adverse publicity the 22 day conflict received in many international circles, the Sheikdom may have decided to ban Peer for this reason. Peer’s doubles partner, German player Anna-Lena Groenefeld, also found her self out of the tournament by not having a teammate to play with.
There might have been some logic as to why Ms. Peer was not allowed to play, at least in some circles, due to political and cultural norms on the part of the Dubai government and the tournament organizers. But this situation has changed dramatically with the allowing of Andy Ram to play, making one wonder if Peer’s ouster was simply because she is a woman! The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) who is responsible for the welfare of female tennis players at such events, has fined the Dubai tourney organizers a record $300,000 for their rejecting of Peer, and will grant Shahar a compensation fee of $44,250 plus 130 ranking points for not being allowed to defend her world rankings in this event.
For his part, Ram appears happy that he was allowed to compete, although many people in both Israel and elsewhere feel that he should have refused to play, in sympathy with Peer. This makes the entire matter even more problematic, resulting in the “gender factor” being a possible reason for Ms. Peer being refused the visa. WTA officials are now requiring that tournament organizers for such events post a $2 million bond to compensate players and advertisers in the event such things happen in future tournaments. Ram’s visa granting was not automatic, however, and only resulted after the international men’ ATP tennis federation put pressure on the Dubai tourney organizers.
Still, the whole affair puts a bad tint on future tournament events to be held in Dubai, and in other so-called “moderate” Arab countries; and will probably have an effect on future participation by Israeli and other tennis players, especially female ones.