The brother of Tunisian tennis star Malek Jaziri on Monday slammed as “shocking” the political pressure to boycott a match with Israel’s Amir Weintraub from the authorities back home.
This decision is “shocking, because it brings politics into sport... We are totally against that and Malek is the first victim, because tennis is his career, his bread-winner,” said Amir Jaziri, who also acts as his brother’s manager.
“To be clear, Malek pulled out for sporting reasons, because he was injured. He did his warm up, something was wrong and the doctor found that his knee was swollen,” he said.
When Jaziri withdrew from Friday’s match against Weintraub, in the quarter-finals of the Challenger tournament in Tashkent, he also cited knee problems.
“But at the political level, we received an order not to play. It was an e-mail from the Tunisian Tennis Federation, via the national technical director,” Amir said, detailing the contents of the e-mail.
“‘After the meeting at the ministry of youth and sports with Riadh Azaiez, I regret to inform you that you cannot play,’” he said, quoting the e-mail, and referring to the director of the country’s sporting elite at the ministry.
Both Jaziri and Weintraub are members of the same tennis club in France — Sarcelles Tennis — north of Paris and have known each other for years through their sport.
The club’s president Jonathan Chaouat said Jaziri was in fact the reason for Weintraub’s recruitment by the club.
The 29-year-old Tunisian has declined to talk to the press since withdrawing from the tournament in Tashkent.
The ministry insisted that it had nothing to do with the order instructing him not to play, stressing that the decision came from the tennis federation.
Amir said he did not know whether his brother would have played the match if he had not been suffering from a knee injury. However, he said he failed to understand how such an order could be given after Malek had already played Weintraub and “Tunisia has played Israel in the 2009 Fed Cup.”
“Tennis doesn’t normally get much media coverage in Tunisia. What happened was only done as part of an electoral campaign, and everyone profits [electorally] from this,” Amir Jaziri said.
The country has been locked in a political crisis since the summer due to deadlocked negotiations between the ruling Islamist party and the opposition.
However, parliamentary and presidential elections are expected to take place in the coming months, if the rival factions manage to reach an accord on an interim government.
The political pressure on Malek Jaziri has failed to spark an outcry in Tunisia, with some media actually hailing his decision to concede the match.
“He has lost ATP points [in the world rankings], but won respect and preserved his honor,” Tunisian daily La Presse said.
“History only remembers courageous decisions. Jaziri made the right choice,” it said, describing the player’s knee injury as “diplomatic.”
The Tunisian authorities have never officially banned sporting encounters with Israeli nationals, and since Jaziri’s decision to withdraw from the tennis tournament in Uzbekistan no such directive has been made public.