'Banning Israeli from tennis meet should never happen again'

Barclays Bank tries to explain to shareholders why it didn't drop sponsorship from Dubai tourney after Pe'er was denied visa.

Shahar Peer 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Shahar Peer 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Barclays Bank's sponsorship of a major tennis tournament that barred an Israeli player from participating came under scrutiny at its annual general meeting (AGM) last week. Israel's top tennis player, Shahar Pe'er, was barred from participating in the Dubai Championship in February after the United Arab Emirates, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, refused to issue her a visa. However, Israel's Andy Ram was granted a visa to play in the men's competition a week later. The Dubai tournament, said to be one of the most prestigious in the tennis world with more than £1.4 million in prize money, said in a statement at the time that the decision to deny Pe'er a visa was made for security reasons. The decision led the World Tennis Association (WTA) to fine the organizers a record $300,000. It also led some shareholders to question why the bank continued to lend its name to the championships, after The Wall Street Journal Europe withdrew its sponsorship and the Tennis Channel TV cancelled coverage of the event. At last week's AGM, the bank's chief executive, John Varley, said the decision to bar Pe'er was "not acceptable" and welcomed the decision to grant Ram a visa and also fine the organizers. Asked at the meeting why Barclays did not follow the example of The Wall Street Journal and Tennis Channel TV, Varley said Barclays is in close contact with the organizers of the competition to ensure it never happens again. "We fully support the action that the WTA took following the event and we ourselves are in dialogue with the tournament organizers to determine how we can help to ensure that something like this never happens again," he said. He said the bank takes seriously its charter on equality and diversity and it had no part in the decision to deny a visa. "In this instance, as you know, the decision to refuse the entry permit was taken by a sovereign government. The tournament and its sponsors had no part in that decision, were not consulted about the decision and the tournament went ahead, as you know, with the full support of the WTA and the players. Our sponsorship was of the event and it felt right for us to honor the commitment as sponsor to the tournament. "As a global organization we operate in many jurisdictions where local cultures and customs and laws sometimes diverge from what we would regard as normal and what we see in our own home country and as a general rule we believe that engagement leads to more constructive change, than if we simply walk away." Trying to diffuse the argument, Varley said there are cultural differences and differences of opinion. "We need to be sensitive to cultural differences and sometimes there are differences of opinion and as we work towards a desired end that sometimes creates conflict," he said. Varley concluded, however, by saying that he hoped an incident such as this will never occur again. "I have to tell you that this was a particularly difficult set of judgments for us to make. We know that the judgments were somewhat controversial, we know that they could lead to criticism, but we have clear values and we do what we think is right occasion by occasion. I very much hope the sort of incident that you are referring to will never occur again."