Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer, refused a visa into the United Arab Emirates for the WTA Dubai Open, insists there is no place for politics in sport while recognizing it would not have been right to stop the tournament going ahead.
“While this is a very difficult moment for me personally and professionally, and the fact that the visa denial was issued at the last moment, I firmly believe that my fellow competitors should not be harmed the way I was,” Peer said in a statement released through the WTA Tour.
“They were in or on their way to Dubai and denying them the right to play in this year’s tournament at the last moment would not make the wrong right. In fact, it troubles me greatly that my doubles partner Anna-Lena Groenefeld from Germany will not be able to compete as we had planned,” Peer added.
Peer praised her fellow players and fans for a “tremendous outpouring of support and empathy over the UAE decision to deny me a visa” while stressing she wanted to see politics and sport kept strictly apart.
“There should be no place for politics or discrimination in professional tennis or indeed any sport,” she insisted.
“Going forward, I am confident that the Tour will take appropriate actions to ensure that this injustice is not allowed to occur in the future, and that the Tour will make sure I will not be further harmed in the short and long term.”
The WTA has said they may end the 17-year-old two million dollar event next year if the situation does not change.
Peer insisted on Thursday she wants to play in Dubai in 2010 despite the controversy stirred up by the UAE’s decision to deny her a visa for this year’s event.
In a dramatic development on Thursday, the UAE attempted to cool the controversy by announcing that Israeli doubles specialist Andy Ram would be granted a visa to play in the ATP event in Dubai next week.
Asked how she felt about Ram’s ability to play in Dubai, Peer said:
I welcome the decision just announced by the United Arab Emirates and the Dubai tournament to reverse a stance that until now has prevented Israeli athletes from competing in the UAE.
This is a great victory for the principle that all athletes should be treated equally and without discrimination, regardless of gender, religion, race or nationality. It is also a victory for sport as a whole, and the power of sport to bring people together.
Too bad organizers couldn’t come to their senses in time for Peer to compete.
It seems the whole incident is getting wrapped up in a neat bow with the WTA announcing that the Dubai event will receive a slap on the wrist for booting Peer from the draw. But dig a little deeper and it seems a similar thing may have actually first happened last year with Ram. Did the ATP manage to hush up what this year became a PR nightmare on the women’s side?