Tennis: New slant on Peer affair
Tue, Feb 17, 2009

DUBAI, UAE - An attempt to help rescue the future of the troubled WTA Dubai Open has been made by a tournament statement suggesting that security is a major consideration behind the handling of the Shahar Peer affair.

The Israeli player was refused a visa into the United Arab Emirates, preventing her from playing in this week's women's tournament, and causing the Women's Tennis Association to consider abandoning it, potentially placing at risk the future of international sport in Dubai.

The WTA has made clear that the end of the 17-year-old two million dollar event remains a real possibility next year if the situation does not change - but now the Dubai Open has moved to show that it could.

According to its statement, amongst the essential reasons for the UAE's decision to deny Peer a visa were local public opinion following the Gaza conflict, the risk of a spectator boycott, and a potential threat to the well-being of the player.

This shifts the area of debate from the introduction of politics into sport - which caused the WTA to say that one of its inviolable principles had been broken - to more practical issues, which might change over the course of year.

The statement was read by tournament director Salah Tahlak, and it started by saying that the tournament is a longstanding and loyal supporter of women's tennis and of the WTA Tour and respects its rules and regulations.

"The tournament also respects Ms Shahar Peer as a professional tennis player on the Tour and understands her disappointment. There were several elements to be considered concerning her participation," Tahlak said.

"Public sentiment remains high in the Middle East and it is believed that Ms Peer's presence would have antagonised our fans who have watched live television of recent attacks in Gaza.

"Ms Peer personally witnessed protests against her at another tournament in New Zealand only a few weeks ago.

"Concern was raised about her well-being and her presence triggering similar protests. Given public sentiment, the entire tournament could have been boycotted by protesters.

"We do not wish to politicise sports, but we have to be sensitive to recent events in the region and not alienate or put at risk the players and the many tennis fans of different nationalities that we have here in the UAE."

It seems likely the ATP will try to take advantage of this stance while dealing with the situation of another Israeli player, Andy Ram, who is said to be seeking a visa for entry to next week's men's Dubai Open.

If so, and if Ram gets the same treatment as Peer, the men's governing body will probably seek clarification of the decision, with the likelihood that security issues rather than pure politics are cited.

This would make possible an earlier discussion of practicalities rather then principles and perhaps introduce a little negotiating room which might offer a chance to save the future of the tournament.

The situation has deteriorated with remarkable speed given that the UAE has invested such huge amounts of money into tennis over many years, and if the WTA and the ATP pull out of Dubai it could have far reaching consequences for the country's growing status as a major player in world sport.

The repercussions could be felt beyond tennis if competitors from other sports are refused entry to the country or sponsorship deals are reconsidered as a result of the ban.

At the moment Dubai hosts the Desert Classic golf, the World Cup horse racing, and the Rugby World Cup sevens.

The headquarters of the ICC, the international governing body of of cricket recently moved here from Lords cricket ground in London.

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