Dubai Open in doubt
Wed, Feb 18, 2009

DUBAI - AN ATTEMPT to rescue the future of the troubled WTA Dubai Open has been made by tournament organisers who say security was 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 the women's tournament and causing the Women's Tennis Association to consider abandoning the tournament, potentially placing the future of international sport in Dubai at risk.

The WTA has made clear that the end of the 17-year event remains a real possibility if the situation does not change.

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 that might change over the course of year.

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

'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.

'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,' the statement said.

Peer herself issued a statement through the WTA Tour, saying the affair was 'a very difficult moment for me personally and professionally''.

The ATP is also 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 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.

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