This week, officials in the United Arab Emirates refused to grant a visa to Israeli player Shahar Peer . This action will prevent her from playing in the $2 million Barclay’s Dubai Tennis Championships, which began Monday. Peer has never attempted to play in the UAE before, but she was granted access to Qatar last year to play an event in Doha. Before being accepted as a tournament on the WTA Tour calendar, every event must confirm that they will not bar any player from competing in the event who has qualified on rank. The freezing of diplomatic ties with Israel in reaction to their recent military offensive in Gaza is being blamed for the UAE’s adamant refusal to admit Peer now.
WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott, acted quickly on the matter, condemning the UAE’s decision to prevent Peer from playing. ”Ms. Peer has earned the right to play in the tournament, and it is regrettable that the UAE is denying her this right,” Scott said in a statement Sunday. According to WTA rules, Dubai should not be allowed to hold a tournament this year because Peer is not allowed to play, but Scott and other officials made the decision to continue with the event, as these events transpired while play was beginning. Nearly 100 players had already traveled to Dubai, and it would be virtually impossible to cancel the tournament at that point. A review process will take place as to whether the tournament will be allowed on the calendar next year. Events in the Middle East have been a financial boon for tennis in recent years, which will certainly influence the decision as far as Dubai in concerned.
Many of her fellow players have come to the defense of Peer, lamenting the unfortunate situation. Elena Dementieva expressed ”I feel very sorry for her. She’s a very good girl and very sensitive…I just feel sad for her. She really cares about what’s going on between Israel and Palestine and it’s just a very tough situation. I think the tour takes it seriously and I wish she could play in Dubai.” Amelie Mauresmo also expressed her displeasure at the situation before withdrawing from the event. Peer will receive some kind of special remedy since she was not able to play this week, but the details of this have yet to be decided.
In spite of all the outrage, the tournament got underway yesterday just like any other event. Upsets ruled the day on Monday as Agnieszka Radwanska was taken out in two sets by her little sister Urszula, and #7 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova was eliminated by countrywomen Elena Vesnina. Tournament favorites Serena and Venus Williams, Dinara Safina, and Elena Dementieva will begin play on Tuesday. The winner of this tournament will receive US$350,000.