The top official of women’s tennis reprimanded the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday for blocking an Israeli player from a premier Dubai tournament, calling the decision to deny her a visa “regrettable.”
But the absence of Shahar Peer could extend beyond the matches under way. The WTA Tour is planning to review its future in Dubai, and the country — which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel — could face possible blows to its ambitions of becoming an international hub for big-ticket sports.
“Ms. Peer has earned the right to play in the tournament and it’s regrettable that the UAE is denying her this right,” WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott said in a statement issued after the UAE’s last-minute decision to reject the visa.
Scott said the tour was “deeply disappointed” by the decision to keep Peer, ranked 48th, from the Dubai Tennis Championships, a joint ATP and WTA event, which includes all the top 10 women’s players.
“All the players support Shahar. We are all athletes and we stand for tennis,” Venus Williams said. “The players have to be unified and support the Tour whichever direction they take on the issue.”
Reigning French Open champion Ana Ivanovic said: “I really don’t like sports to be mixed with politics.”
Peer broke barriers last year in Qatar when she was the first Israeli to play in a WTA Tour tournament in the Persian Gulf. But the UAE — locked in a rivalry with Qatar to host major sports events — could face setbacks if the WTA and other federations grow skittish of planning events with the prospect of Israeli athletes being blocked.
Last month, Peer was the focus of protests in New Zealand over Israel’s recent three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip against Hamas militants. She was provided extra security at the ASB Classic tournament.
But tensions have been high between Israel and Arab countries since the assault started on Dec. 27. About 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the offensive, which sparked mass anti-Israeli protests across the Middle East.
Emirates officials did not respond to repeated calls and e-mails for comment.