Sports Outside the Beltway

Dubai denies visa for Israeli tennis player

Shahar Peer is the 48th ranked player in the world. From AP-

The top official in women’s tennis reprimanded the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for blocking an Israeli player from a premier Dubai tournament, calling the decision to deny her a visa “regrettable.”

But the absence of Shahar Peer could extend beyond the matches under way. The WTA Tour is planning to review its future in Dubai, and the UAE — which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel — could face a possible blow to its ambitions of becoming an international hub for big-ticket sports.

“Ms. Peer has earned the right to play in the tournament and it’s regrettable that the UAE is denying her this right,” WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott said in a statement issued after the UAE’s last-minute decision.

The visa denial could result in Dubai no longer hosting a WTA event. I think it should, if a country can’t separate sports and politics, they shouldn’t be hosting international competitions. I doubt the WTA will take any action. Dubai based sporting events are some of the richest in the world.

The UAE has no diplomatic relations with Israel, but Israelis with dual citizenship have entered the country for international sporting and business events using second-country passports. On some occasions, Israeli passport holders have been allowed entry for meetings held by the United Nations or other international agencies.

It was not clear whether Peer was traveling on an Israeli passport.

Peer’s brother and spokesman, Shlomi Peer, said the 21-year-old player applied for a visa months in advance and was assured by tournament organizers that she would be allowed entry.

Tournament officials can promise anything they want but aren’t the ones who grant or deny a visa.

If Peer only has a Israeli passport, the visa denial was consistent with Dubai law and policy. That law and policy stinks.

Peer broke barriers last year in Qatar when she was the first Israeli to play in a WTA Tour tournament in the Persian Gulf. But the UAE — locked in a rivalry with Qatar to host major sports events — could face setbacks if the WTA and other federations grow skittish of planning events with the prospect of Israeli athletes being blocked.

Last month, Peer was the focus of protests in New Zealand over Israel’s recent three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip against Hamas militants. She was provided extra security at the ASB Class tournament there.

In fairness to Dubai and the UAE, they aren’t the only Muslim country to discriminate against Israeli tennis players. In 2006 the Indonesian Tennis Association refused to play a match in Israel.

Sports shouldn’t be about politics. I’m realistic enough to know some won’t ever be able to separate the two.

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