Over the last decade, Dubai has become a popular destination for international sports looking to add a warm winter tour stop, but that might change thanks to the whole Middle East in turmoil thing.
Shahar Peer, who is a Jewish Israeli, was in the scheduled draw for the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship that starts today. Anyone traveling with an Israeli passport generally finds it very difficult, if not impossible, to enter the United Arab Emirates, but since this is a major sporting event sponsored by the WTA, and they had plenty of advance warning, there were indications that she would be allowed to play this year. However, at the very last minute, her visa was denied—so forget all that "sports transcends politics" nonsense.
The WTA briefly considered canceling the whole tournament, but since most of the other players were already in Dubai or on their way, they decided not to ruin everyone's vacation and will go ahead as planned. That doesn't mean they aren't very cross with UAE.
I made it clear to them that if Shahar were not allowed to play, they would run the risk of losing their tournament," said [Larry Scott, chairman of the WTA Tour]. "It would be a big blow to lose one of this prestige and money, but if it comes to the principles of fairness and openness, there can be no compromise."
Of course, that's what they said a year ago when an Israeli men's doubles team was denied entry to Dubai.
At that time I was in Dubai, I made it clear to the authorities, the representatives of the government, that next year when our top players wanted to play this very prestigious tournament all of them had to be allowed to play," Scott said.
"They had a year to work on it and solve it. We've spent time through the year discussing it. We were given assurances that it had gone to the highest levels of government," Scott said. "I was optimistic they would solve it. And we've made crystal clear to the government to the tournament organizers that there could be grave repercussions not just for tennis in the UAE but sports beyond that."
So when exactly would those "grave repercussions" take effect? There is a men's tennis tournament there next week (not to mention several pro golf tournaments in the region each year) that will likely go on as planned, despite this being a well-known and problematic issue. Will anyone be taking an actual stand or will they just wag their finger and continue with business as usual next year too?
A Political Swing at One Player Sours a Tournament for All [NY Times]
Banned Israeli tennis player: 'It's not fair' [CNN]
Dubai Tarnishes Golden Sports Hopes; Denies Israeli Tennis Star Visa [SportsBiz]