By JEREMY LAST
It hasn't been a great start to 2010 for the Israeli sports world. The tax authority's investigations into European basketball referee Sami Bachar and national soccer team coach Dror Kashtan dominated the sports sections of Israeli newspapers and Internet sites this week, overshadowing regular soccer and basketball contests.
So when the ironically titled Global Peace and Justice group launched its noisy protest campaign against Shahar Pe'er's participation in the ASB Classic tournament in Auckland, New Zealand, it felt like the week was going to go from bad to worse.
Pe'er, however, has done herself and her country proud in her stoic response.
Rather than playing up to the repugnant demonstrators' calls for her to "go home," the 22-year-old has smashed the ball right back at them, claiming the screaming and shouting only encouraged her to play better.
"Everyone can do whatever they want, as long as I'm winning I don't care.
"I also want peace in the world but I don't think this is the place for this protest,"Pe'er said on Wednesday in an exhibition of maturity the protestors would do well to take heed of.
Unfortunately, the demonstrations have apparently affected Pe'er's opponents in her march toward the final, one effective proof that their leaders have made a serious judgement error.
As long as they are not calling for the infliction of harm on others, the principles of free speech should allow all protests to go ahead.
But it is foolish and, ultimately embarrassing, for GPJ to go about disrupting matches at a serious tennis tournament. The banging of drums and incessant shouting during the games make those involved look childish.
Even though the protesters were forced to make their noise outside the stadium, they managed to find the right place along the perimeter fence to cause problems for the players.
Luckily the tournament authorities did the right thing and called the police to complain about the noise, leading to a number of arrests, although not before the protesters played an immature game of cat and mouse with policemen, with some climbing up trees to evade officers.
The method of protest is not the only aspect of the incidents which is misguided. Politics may have a place in sports on some occasions, but it is totally unfair to target an individual such as Pe'er and ask her to "sacrifice" her participation in international tournaments because of the actions of the Israeli government.
"It's time for you to go home Shahar," one demonstrator shouted. "There's no place for you in this tournament until your government's policies change. Your participation in tournaments around the world is no longer acceptable to the international community."
It is unlikely groups such as GPJ will listen to those who disagree with their claims or methods, but Pe'er's reaction represented the perfect riposte.
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