The WTA fined the Dubai Tennis Championships’ organizers a record US$300,000 on Friday after Israeli player Shahar Peer was denied a visa by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and US star Andy Roddick later said he wouldn’t defend the title he won there last year.
“I really didn’t agree with what went on over there. I don’t know if it’s the best thing to mix politics and sports and that was probably a big part of it,” Roddick said at a tournament in Memphis, Tennessee. “It’s just disappointing that it reflects on a tournament that probably didn’t have much to do with the decision. Nevertheless, I just don’t feel like there’s a need for that in a sporting event. I don’t think you make political statements through sports.”
The Women’s Tennis Association also took steps to compensate Peer and ensure she and other Israeli players won’t be shut out of future tournaments in the federation.
Organizers said at the time that they feared fan anger over Israel’s recent military offensive in the Gaza Strip would spill into riots if Peer were to play. The UAE and Israel do not have diplomatic relations.
Part of the fine — more than double the previous largest levied by the WTA — will go to Peer and doubles partner Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany to make up for the prize money they could have won at the lucrative tournament, which has a purse of US$2 million.
“I think what we hope with this decision is that we’re sending a very clear message that we’re not going to tolerate discrimination of any kind,” tour CEO Larry Scott told reporters.
As important as the fine, Scott said, was requiring the organizers to post a US$2 million performance guarantee — something normally not required by established, financially sound events like the Dubai Tennis Championships.
“There’s never been any significant issue with them before,” Scott said.
The WTA was able to hold the tournament accountable in part because of its association with Dubai Duty Free, a government enterprise, Scott said. The event’s Web site includes the statement that it is “Under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai.”
Peer, who will receive US$44,250, was also given 130 ranking points, equivalent to the ones she earned in the same week last year. She’ll keep them until she plays in another tournament that offers a chance at the same amount she could have won in Dubai.
Groenefeld will get US$7,950, roughly equivalent to her average doubles take from last year. The balance of the fine will go to a charity that will be chosen by the tour and Peer.
Dubai organizers also must confirm that qualifying Israeli players will get visas at least eight weeks in advance to remain on next year’s tour schedule.
Additionally, Peer will be guaranteed a wild-card entry if she doesn’t qualify.
On Thursday, the UAE said it would grant Israeli player Andy Ram a visa so he could play in the US$2.2 million men’s tournament that starts tomorrow. The ATP had warned that future events could be in jeopardy if Ram wasn’t allowed to enter.
“After last week when they denied the visa for Shahar Peer, it was a surprising decision for me but I think it was a good surprise, a very good surprise,” Ram said. “I have to be thankful to them. I don’t know but I think in the end they took the right decision. And I’m just very happy.”