Fenty's Take on Bigotry At Dubai Tennis Tourney Is Dubious at Best

By Raw Fisher From Marc Fisher's Blog
Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mayor Adrian Fenty says he went to Dubai for a week because, well, "I always wanted to go."

And, hey, the government of the United Arab Emirates was paying for the trip, so why not? The mayor even came home with a lovely gift, a crystal memento of his visit with the chairman of the Department of Municipal Affairs for Abu Dhabi. And Fenty and family got to watch some of the Dubai Tennis Championships, one of the world's top tennis events.

So what's the problem with the mayor of the capital of the free world taking a week of R&R in the desert? Well, even as Fenty was enjoying the hospitality of his hosts, the Tennis Channel canceled its TV coverage of that same tournament because of Dubai's decision to exclude, as the TV channel put it, "a single player who has been blocked from entering the country due to her nationality."

That would be Shahar Peer, an Israeli player who had expected to compete for the $2 million purse at the tournament. The Women's Tennis Association has fined the organizers of the Dubai championship a record $300,000 for denying Peer a visa to compete.

Plenty of other Americans seem to get the idea that countenancing discrimination is simply not acceptable. Tennis pro Andy Roddick, the defending champion in the Dubai tourney, pulled out, saying he wouldn't attend because of the country's exclusion of the Israeli player. Serena Williams, who plays for the Washington Kastles of the World Team Tennis league, did play, but said she is obviously "not for discrimination."

But Fenty, meeting reporters upon his return to the District, had a different take. "It's a very complicated international diplomatic situation," he told The Post's David Nakamura. "Concerns were raised. . . . By the end, they seemed to have resolved the matter in that they were going to allow an Israeli to play in the men's tournament."

So a little hateful discrimination is okay if you balance it out with one decent move? Dubai did grant a visa to Israeli player Andy Ram, but the matter was hardly resolved. Peer remained blocked -- and that was enough to get the Wall Street Journal's European edition to drop its corporate sponsorship of the tournament. "The Wall Street Journal's editorial philosophy is free markets and free people, and this action runs counter to the Journal's editorial direction," the newspaper said in a statement.

(Newsweek remained a sponsor; an editorial in The Post said "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.")

What was Fenty really doing in Dubai? Supposedly, it was a business development trip -- but I'll buy lunch for the first reader who identifies new jobs that come to the District as a result of this visit.

Better question: Would Fenty have bailed out of the trip, or at least skipped the tennis tourney, if he had not been beholden to his hosts? I think he would have at least thought hard about finding some other form of amusement in Dubai rather than watching the match if he'd been paying his own way.

Reporters are forever making big deals out of politicians who take free trips, and that can seem picayune. But this is exactly the kind of situation where accepting a gift can flip in an instant from a harmless gratuity to a very icky sense that you have been bought.

Back when he was a council member from Ward 4, Fenty was highly critical of Mayor Tony Williams's frequent travel to fancy destinations. Fenty called the frequent wanderings a chief reason he decided to run for mayor: "It's really gotten ridiculous. He's completely disengaged from the workings of government."

Fenty could have done the right thing by not attending the tennis games. Even better, he could have paid his own way. That's what council member Fenty would have advised just a couple of years ago.

E-mail: marcfisher@washpost.com

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