WTA chairman: Dubai risks losing the tournament next year

Israeli tennis star Shahr Pe'er would have made history as first Israeli to compete in the Emirate state, "shocked" after being refused a visa.

shahar peer tennis 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
shahar peer tennis 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Shahar Pe'er's hope of becoming the first Israeli to play in Dubai came to a disappointing end on Sunday after it was announced that she has been denied a visa to the United Arab Emirates. The 21-year-old Israeli had received assurances that a visa would be issued in the months leading up to the $2 million dollar Dubai Tennis Championships and was only informed otherwise on Saturday night, a day before the tournament got under way. Pe'er had even been included in the tournament draw, which was made over the weekend, and was set to face Russia's Anna Chakvetadze in the first round. However, as Dubai has no diplomatic relations with Israel, Pe'er was never guaranteed of getting a visa and will be now returning home to Israel for training instead of flying to the UAE. WTA chairman and CEO Larry Scott releeased a statement expressing the organization's concern. "We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the UAE denying Shahar Pe'er a visa that would permit her to enter the country to play in the Dubai Tennis Championships," Scott said. "Ms. Pe'er has earned the right to play in the tournament and it is regrettable that the UAE is denying her this right." Scott added that the WTA tour will not stand for such behavior. "The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour believes very strongly, and has a clear rule and policy, that no host country should deny a player the right to compete at a tournament for which she has qualified by ranking," he said. "The Tour is reviewing appropriate remedies for Ms. Pe'er and also will review appropriate future actions with regard to the future of the Dubai tournament." Speaking to The New York Times on next year's tournament, "I made it clear to them that if Shahar were not allowed to play, they would run the risk of losing their tournament," Scott said. "It would be a big blow to lose one of this prestige and money, but if it comes to the principles of fairness and openness, there can be no compromise." The Israel Tennis Association wrote to the WTA to complain about the decision. "We're taking this very seriously," ITA CEO Moshe Haviv told The Jerusalem Post. "Politics shouldn't mix with sport. Even though this is a personal tournament for Pe'er we decided it would be right to send a letter of complaint to the WTA." Pe'er broke barriers last year in Qatar when she was the first Israeli woman to play in a WTA Tour tournament in the Gulf as the region tries to enhance its reputation as an international sports hub. But the visa denial for the Dubai championships could be a blow to the city's efforts at fostering an image of full openness in business, sports and other high-profile events. Israelis have entered the country for international sporting and business events using second-country passports and on some occasions, Israeli passport holders have been allowed entry for meetings held by the United Nations or other international agencies. "All the players support Shahar," said Venus Williams, who is in Dubai for the tournament."We are all athletes and we stand for tennis. The players have to be unified and support the tour whichever direction they take on the issue." French Open champion Ana Ivanovic of Serbia added: "I really don't like sports to be mixed with politics." In other tennis news, Andy Ram and Julian Knowle lost 2-6, 6-7 (4) to Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes in the semifinals of the doubles tournament in Rotterdam late Saturday.