Tennis: Ram granted Dubai visa after tumultuous week

Tennis governing officials warn that holding future tennis events in Dubai could be in doubt if the Emirates continue to ban Israelis.

andy ram 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
andy ram 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
Andy Ram won his fight to play in Dubai next week after the Arab country said it would permit the seventh-ranked doubles player to enter the country. The United Arab Emirates came under sharp criticism after it banned Shahar Pe'er earlier this week from entering the country to participate in the lucrative Dubai Tennis Championships. Organizers said they feared fan anger over Israel's recent military offensive in the Gaza Strip would spill into riots in the Persian Gulf country if Pe'er were to play. Tennis governing officials warned that holding future tennis events in Dubai could be in doubt if the Emirates - which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel - continued to ban Israelis. The ATP, which runs next week's men's tournament, gave the UAE a Friday evening deadline to decide whether to grant Ram a visa. "I'm very happy to hear I was granted a visa to Dubai. I would like to thank everyone who helped make this happen," Ram said. "At the moment, I'm in Marseille and I'm fully focused on Saturday's semifinal match. After I end the tournament in France I will leave for Dubai. I have no doubt that it will be a unique experience and I'm hoping to display good tennis and entertain the fans." Ram and partner Julian Knowle defeated Mikhail Youzhny and Mischa Zverev 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Open 13 in Marseille on Thursday and will face Tomas Berdych and Jan Hernych in the last four. "No player, who qualifies to play an ATP World Tour event, should be denied their right to compete on the basis of ethnicity, nationality or religion and we are happy that the Dubai Tennis Championships and the UAE have shown that they share that view," ATP president, Adam Helfant, said in a statement. Pe'er was also pleased to hear of the UAE's change of mind. "I welcome the decision just announced by the UAE and the Dubai tournament to reverse a stance that until now has prevented Israeli athletes from competing in the UAE," Pe'er said. "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. "I am very happy for Andy Ram, who will be able to compete next week in Dubai. I hope and believe that from this day forward, athletes from all over the world will be able to compete in the UAE and anywhere else in the world without discrimination of any kind. I personally look forward to competing in Dubai next year." The head of the Emirates consular affairs department said a "special permit" had been granted for Ram, but did not give a specific reason why Ram was allowed to participate and not Pe'er. "This comes as part of UAE's commitment to organize international sport, educational and economic events and activities without putting any boundaries in front of the participation of individuals from states represented in the United Nations," Sultan al-Qurtasi was quoted by the country's state news agency. The controversy over the Israeli players could undermine the UAE's desire to host big-time global sporting events. The Tennis Channel canceled plans to televise the women's tournament, which is currently under way, and the Wall Street Journal Europe withdrew as one of its sponsors. Top past and present tennis players had spoken out against the Emirates' ban on Israelis - including Billie Jean King and Venus and Serena Williams - saying sports and politics should not mix. "I think it's wonderful that Andy Ram has the opportunity to play. We are all athletes and we have no platform. We are here to play tennis, we are entertainers, and I am happy he has the opportunity to do that," Venus Williams said Thursday after defeating Elena Dementieva in the women's tournament, which ends Saturday. Her sister, top-ranked Serena, said: "Obviously, I am not for discrimination. Everyone bleeds red blood and everyone should get an equal opportunity." WTA chairman and CEO Larry Scott paid tribute to Pe'er for helping Ram receive a visa. "Shahar Pe'er is owed all of our thanks for her courage in challenging an unjust policy and for forcing action to be taken that resulted in today's announcement," Scott said. "We thank all of the many organizations and individuals that rallied behind Shahar and pressed the UAE to change their discriminatory stance. It is deeply regrettable that Shahar had to suffer the negative consequences of the UAE decision this past week in order for this policy to get turned around for the benefit of others. "What happened to Shahar last week was discriminatory, reprehensible and unacceptable, and the Tour will shortly be determining remedies for her, penalties to be imposed on the tournament, and the additional assurances we will require to guarantee all Israeli athletes entry to the UAE so that future tournaments in the UAE may take place."