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Shahar of Justice

Who remembers Shahar Peer? At the 2007 Australian Open, Peer became the first Israeli woman to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event.

In February of 2009, though, the young lady was prevented from playing in the Dubai Tennis Championships, after being denied a visa by the United Arab Emirates. Reason? Because that particular country has no diplomatic relations with the Jewish country, or, they don’t recognize the State of Israel. The tournament director, Salah Tahlak, said that Peer was refused on the grounds that her appearance on the court would incite Arab anger – and all of this came after the Israeli teenager faced protests at the ASB Classic over the 2008-2009 war in Gaza.
Other players in the circuit got behind her – Venus Williams, whose sister Serena defeated Peer in the quarter finals of the Australian Open in 2007 condemned the action not to grant Peer a visa. WTA chief Larry Scott considered cancelling the tournament, but Peer talked him out of it.

Well, the Tennis Channel decided not to televise the event and The Wall Street Journal dropped its sponsorship. Finally Andy Roddick chose not to defend his title, with prize money of over $2 million, to protest against the UAE’s refusal to grant Peer a visa for the event.

“I really didn’t agree with what went on over there.”

Shahar has made her country proud, by winning her opening match in this year’s tournament against Yanina Wickmayer. The organizers last year were fined $300,000 by the WTA after denying Shahar the opportunity to participate.

So Mazal Tov to you Shahar. Good luck in your next matches…

Dubai: Why Andy and not Shahar?

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.

Israeli Tennis

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.

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