Dubai Plays Politics With Women's Tennis

Thursday, February 19, 2009

ISRAELI TENNIS star Shahar Peer is ranked No. 45 in the world in women's tennis. Ms. Peer makes a living playing in tournaments around the globe, with career earnings totaling more than $2 million. But all that skill isn't enough to triumph over ingrained prejudice in Dubai, the wildly rich city-state of the United Arab Emirates that has never granted visas to holders of Israeli passports.

Despite that offensive distinction, Ms. Peer continued to make plans to head to Dubai to compete in the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships. Her fellow competitors were well on their way to the Persian Gulf kingdom when officials informed Ms. Peer that her visa application had been denied. We don't know the exact excuse that was used. Our call to the UAE Embassy here on Tuesday to discuss the matter yielded a "we'll call you tomorrow" from a public affairs official. That follow-up call never came. But a Wall Street Journal editorial yesterday reported that concerns for Ms. Peer's safety were the motivation for the visa denial. Touching.

The Gulf States have used their oil wealth to project an image of modernity and tolerance in an area of the world seemingly awash in extremism. For the UAE, it's an image that's belied by its continued prohibition against Israelis entering the country.

Ms. Peer took the news with grace. Because many of her would-be fellow competitors were either en route or already in Dubai, she urged that the tournament go on. Larry Scott, chairman and chief executive officer of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, slammed the UAE for its decision and promised a "review of appropriate future actions" pertaining to the Dubai tournament. The only appropriate action for the Women's Tennis Association and the tournament's corporate sponsors (including Newsweek, a part of The Washington Post Co.) is to take the tournament elsewhere next year unless every legitimate competitor is admitted. As Ms. Peer said in her statement, "There should be no place for politics or discrimination in professional tennis or indeed any sport."

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