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Saturday, February 21, 2009
WTA Fines Dubai Tournament for Ban on Israeli Player

It is a truism that sports and politics should not mix. It is an equal truism that they do. The question is in the justification. Nations have boycotted the Olympics and the Olympics have boycotted nations, such as Apartheid-era South Africa. Numerous debates as to the wisdom of boycotts and their effect on sports have gone on for years.

But sometimes there comes a political act that is so wrongheaded that it is difficult to come up any justification for it -- except obvious discrimination. Such a decision came last week when Israeli tennis professional Shahar Peer was barred from competing at a WTA-sanctioned event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The Dubai Championship, with millions in prize money, is an attempt by the country and its rulers to create an attractive venue for premier sporting events. Touting itself as a welcoming place for people all of the world, the UAE's rulers wish to create a friendly, tolerant place for sports to flourish. Friendly and tolerant to all, except, apparently Israeli citizens.

The recent war in Gaza was the pretext for the government's actions. The organizers said that they feared fan anger over Israel's actions because the anger would spill into riots if Peer were to play. In fact, these have been tough times for Israeli athletes. An Israeli basketball team was chased off the court during a game in Turkey and the players were attacked with bottles thrown from some "Pro-Gaza" demonstrators. (Incidentally, Turkey was given credit for a "victory"). An upcoming Davis Cup match in Sweden will be played without fans because of threats.

The Sony Ericsson WTA sanctions the Dubai event and the organization initially criticized the action, but did not take any action until today. In a statement posted on their website, the Tour's board, after criticizing the UAE's action as "unjust discrimination," announced the following actions:
  • Fined of the Dubai tournament $300,000
  • Awarded $44,250 to Peer – an amount equal to the average prize money that she earned per tournament (singles and doubles) in 2008
  • Awarded $7,950 to Anna Lena Groenefeld, who was to be Shahar Peer’s doubles partner in Dubai and who was unable to compete in doubles with Ms. Peer. The amount is equal to the average prize money that she earned per tournament in doubles in 2008
  • The posting by the Dubai tournament of a $2 million financial performance guarantee
  • Shahar Peer Ranking Points - The awarding of 130 ranking points to Shahar Peer – an amount equal to the points that she earned during the same week in 2008 (week of Memphis) that she was unable to defend this past week in Dubai as a result of the denial of her entry visa by UAE. Such points will remain on Ms. Peer’s ranking until such time as she has had an opportunity to earn equivalent points at the next tournament offering ranking points equal to the Dubai tournament.
  • Most importantly, the Dubai organizers also must confirm that qualifying Israeli players will get visas at least eight weeks in advance to remain on the tour schedule for 2010.

According to the WTA, the $300,000 fine represents the highest fine ever levied against a Tour member and proceeds will be used to compensate Peer and Groenefeld.

In the wake of this criticism, the UAE decided to grant a visa to Israeli men's player Andy Ram for an upcoming tournament after the men's counterpart, the ATP had warned that future events could be in jeopardy if Ram wasn't allowed to enter.

The WTA's actions are a justified moral response to the UAE's actions and also a good example of governance control. The organization -- like the ATP -- is not a sports league in the traditional sense, but an organization representing individual players which sanctions tournaments and set forth conditions for their players. It has a detailed structure -- with more than 400 pages of organizational materials, rules and regulations.

Some would argue that the actions do not go far enough. The fine may be a drop in the bucket for the UAE and this year's tournament took place without Peer. Although some wanted the WTA to stop its sponsorship of this year's event, that would have been impractical because of the last-minute nature of the visa rejection. After being assured of a visa, Peer was about to leave to Dubai from Thailand, when she was denied entry to the country. The other players were already there, so the tournament went on. That makes their action more egregious, and the WTA at the very least put the tournament's organizers on notice.


It's a sad truth that she was not allowed to play and it's even more sad than the odd mix of sports and political issue here. I admire Roddick's move however to sympathize in his own way to his fellow sportsman and I don't see any politics in that move, just plain camaraderie and show of support with a fellow tennis player.


Anonymous ana's dubai blog -- 2/21/2009 11:05 PM  

To add to Mark's original post:

The Davis Cup match in Sweden was scheduled to be played at the Baltic Hall in Molmo. There are now plans to move the game to the Royal Tennis Hall in Stockholm. Malmo has a very large population of immigrants from arab countries, and the city has taken the position that it cannot guarantee the safety of the spectators.

There are also financial implications to be considered. The original venue had expected profits of around 150,000 USD, while the cost of playing the match with empty stands would be around 240,000 USD.

Also noteworthy is that there is an organized effort from several groups in Malmo to force the cancelation of the game. The city has already been vandalized by the "peace activists" claiming to want peace in the middle east. This includes Graffiti on public property and broken windows.

Lars Ohly, a Swedish member of Parliament and chairman of the the Left Party (known as "the Left Party - Communists" until the party dropped the Communists part of the name in 1990) has voiced his opposition of the game and his support of Palestinian people.

I haven't seen to much of this in international news, but I will keep an eye on the swedish media for any updates...

Blogger Jimmy H -- 2/22/2009 5:49 PM  

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