That would be Shahar Peer, the Israeli player who will not be playing in the Dubai Tennis Championships this week because UAE authorities denied her visa request.
Is this a surprise? No – it’s well known that the UAE doesn’t give visas to Israeli passport holders. There are exceptions, sometimes, but the WTA execs should stop pretending that it’s all a big shock to them. They’re the ones who put her in this situation to begin with. I give Shahar credit for having the chutzpah to even try to play the tournament – she and her buddy/onetime doubles partner Sania Mirza have already borne more than their fair share of geopolitical baggage. They must be tired of being spokeswomen for their politicians and punching bags for their politicians’ opponents. We forget: being apolitical is a luxury.
What I do find mildly surprising, and pleasantly so, is that the other WTA players are speaking out in protest of the situation. No, they aren’t planning a march on the Mall of the Emirates, and I haven’t heard that any of the tournament’s $2 million purse is being donated to world peace, but heck, I’ll take what I can get from these people:
From the AFP:
Former world number one Amelie Mauresmo led a chorus of condemnation after Israel’s Shahar Peer was controversially denied a visa to take part in the two-million-dollar WTA tournament in Dubai.
Peer, the world number 48, was told she was not welcome in the UAE, despite having played in the Qatar Open in neighbouring Doha in 2008, a move considered both a sporting and diplomatic success.
But the change in relations between Israel and Arab states, following the recent Gaza conflict, led to the door being slammed shut in the face of the Jersualem-born, 21-year-old Peer, the only Israeli player in the top 100.
“It’s not acceptable,” said Mauresmo after clinching the Paris Open title on Sunday.
“I think sport should be above issues like that to do with religion and wars and whatever. I’m surprised.”
Russia’s Olympic champion Elena Dementieva, the runner-up to Mauresmo in Paris, said she had great sympathy for Peer.
“I feel very sorry for her. She’s a very good girl and very sensitive. I played her in Auckland and there was some kind of demonstration during the match,” commented Dementieva.
“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.”
Peer faced protests over Israel’s military offensive in Gaza at the Auckland tournament in January with a group of around 20 people demanding she withdraw from the event.
Her last outing on the tour was on Saturday where she was beaten 6-1, 6-4 by number one seed Vera Zvonereva of Russia in the semi-finals of the Pattaya Open in Thailand.
French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, the former world number one from Serbia, said she was saddened by the episode.
“It’s very unfortunate, I feel very sorry for her. Shahar is a friend of mine and I feel sorry she’s not here,” said Ivanovic who is in Dubai.
“It’s always a pity to mix politics and sport. But the WTA is looking into it.”
Dinara Safina, the world number two from Russia, said she believed the WTA would help her out.
“It’s pretty disappointing she’s not playing here. She’s a great player and a great athlete. I hope she will have many more chances. I think the WTA is doing its best for them.”
So here’s the question: will it be the politics or the tanking economy (yes, even Dubai is feeling it) that makes the WTA reconsider its activities in the region?