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Dubai refuses visa for Shahar Peer; WTA considering action

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The Canadian Press
2/16/2009 1:10:26 PM
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PARIS - Dubai's lucrative tournament risks being struck from the women's tennis calendar after the United Arab Emirates refused a visa to Israeli player Shahar Peer.

WTA Tour chairman Larry Scott said Monday that barring Peer threatens the principle that sports and politics should not mix.

Speaking by telephone to The Associated Press, he said the WTA will consider what "types of sanctions are going to be deemed to be appropriate in light of what has happened, including whether or not the tournament has a slot on the calendar next year."

Asked if there is a risk that the tournament could be dropped if this matter is not set right, Scott replied: "You could say that, yes."

"There's two things we need to consider: What's the future fate of the Dubai tournament and what sanctions apply. And the second thing is how does Shahar get treated fairly, how does her situation get redressed?" he added.

In Israel, Peer said in a statement to the AP, "I am very disappointed that I have been prevented from playing in the Dubai tournament. I think a red line has been crossed here that could harm the purity of the sport and other sports. I have always believed that politics and sports should not be mixed."

The UAE rejected Peer's visa request a day before she was to arrive for the US$2 million Dubai Tennis Championships, which includes all the top-10 women's players.

Peer, ranked 45th, had qualified and was already placed in the woman's draw. She was scheduled to play Monday against 15th-seeded Russian Anna Chakvetadze.

Organizers gave the 21-year-old player no reason for the rejection, but it appeared to be tied to anti-Israel sentiments in the Gulf state, particularly after last month's three-week war between Israel and Islamic militants in Gaza.

"It can really only be related to her nationality and political and security-related issues," Scott said.

Just last month, Peer faced a noisy protest in Auckland, New Zealand, over Israel's Gaza invasion.

But Shlomi Peer, the player's brother, said that this was the first time his sister's Israeli heritage has ever prevented her from playing professionally. Last year, she played in Doha, Qatar. At the time, the Gulf Arab country had low-level ties with Israel. Peer had hoped the precedent would allow her to play again this year.

"Everything was great, people were so nice to us," Peer's brother said of last year. "We didn't think it was going to be any problem this time."

Still, her nationality has caused her difficulties on the tennis tour before. In 2006, she and her doubles partner, Sania Mirza of India, were forced to split because of objections from Indian Muslims.

Peer completed her military service in 2007 and travels on an Israeli passport. Scott said important values are at stake in her case.

"Sports and politics should not mix, and the fundamental principles upon which the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour are founded include open and fair competition to all, regardless of nationality, creed, race, religion, etc.," he said.

"That's not just a principle that our Tour is founded upon, but I think it is the underlying spirit of international sports in general and therefore I think the ramifications of what happened here ripple well beyond tennis.

"We will think deeply about this in making our decision on what our final response is," he added.

Scott said the WTA decided to continue with the tournament to avoid hurting the other players already in Dubai. That decision was taken in consultation with Peer.

"She didn't want to see her fellow players harmed the same way she was being harmed," Scott said.

Shahar Peer (Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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