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Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Dubai faces censure over Peer ban

Shahar Peer
Peer was subject to protests at a tournament in New Zealand last month

Dubai could be removed from the women's tennis calendar in 2010 after Israeli Shahar Peer was refused entry to the United Arab Emirates.

WTA chief executive Larry Scott said women's tennis's governing body will consider "what types of sanctions are going to be deemed appropriate".

He said that would include "whether the tournament has a slot on the calendar".

Dubai organisers said they feared a threat to the player's safety because of public opinion on the Gaza conflict.

While playing in a tournament in Auckland, New Zealand in January, Peer had to contend with a noisy protest over Israel's invasion of Gaza.

"Public sentiment remains high in the Middle East and fans and we have watched live television coverage of the recent attacks in Gaza. We believe that Shahar Peer's presence would have antagonised our fans," tournament director Salah Tahlak said in a prepared statement.

"Ms Peer personally witnessed protests against her at another tournament in New Zealand only a few weeks ago. Concern was raised about her well-being here and her presence triggering similar protests.

I am confident the Tour will take appropriate actions to ensure that this injustice is not allowed to occur in the future

Shahar Peer

"Given public sentiment, the entire tournament could have been boycotted by protesters.

"We do not wish to politicise sport but we have to be sensitive to recent events in the whole region and not alienate or put at risk the players or the many tennis fans of different nationalities that we have in the United Arab Emirates."

The Dubai tournament is one of the most prestigious on the women's tour, with nine of the top 10 players competing this year.

Peer was scheduled to play 15th seed Anna Chakvetadze of Russia in the $2m event on Monday, but the 21-year-old's request for a visa was turned down.

The world number 48 said she expected the WTA to act against the "injustice".

"I am confident that the Tour will take appropriate actions to ensure that this injustice is not allowed to occur in the future, and that the Tour will make sure I will not be further harmed in the short and long term," she said in a statement on Tuesday.

"There should be no place for politics or discrimination in professional tennis or indeed any sport."

The UAE's move has been met by widespread condemnation in the sport.

WTA rules state that no host country can deny a player the right to compete at any event on the tour for which she has qualified by ranking.

The ITF will remind the UAE Tennis Association that the ITF Constitution does not permit discrimination on any grounds

ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti

Scott said he had considered cancelling the tournament when he heard about the situation, but decided to allow it to go ahead after consultation with Peer.

"It was decided not to cancel this year's tournament, after talking to Peer and her family, and as most of the other players were already in Dubai," he told the Daily Telegraph.

"But the fact that the tournament is going ahead, that should not be taken to mean that we accept or condone the fact that Peer has been denied a visa. We don't."

The International Tennis Federation, which organises the four Grand Slam tournaments as well as the Fed Cup and Davis Cup, said it would be in contact with the UAE's tennis federation.

ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti said: "The ITF will remind the UAE Tennis Association that the ITF Constitution does not permit discrimination on any grounds.

"The ITF believes that sport should not be used as a political tool but rather as a unifying element between athletes and nations."

The Israeli Tennis Association (ITA) has called for stern action.

"The sanction has to be so severe that no one will ever attempt to boycott an athlete again, " said ITA chairman Michael Klein.

Former world number one Amelie Mauresmo was among a host of players to voice their support for Peer.

It's very unfortunate, I feel very sorry for her

Ana Ivanovic
"It's not acceptable," said the Frenchwoman after clinching the Paris Open title on Sunday.

"I think sport should be above issues like that to do with religion and wars and whatever. I'm surprised."

Olympic champion Elena Dementieva was Peer's opponent in Auckland when a group of about 20 peace activists staged a protest outside the venue.

"I feel very sorry for her," said the Russian.

"I played her in Auckland and there was some kind of demonstration during the match.

"I just feel sad for her. She really cares about what's going on between Israel and Palestine and it's just a very tough situation."

Speaking in Dubai, former world number one Ana Ivanovic of Serbia said: "It's very unfortunate, I feel very sorry for her.

"Shahar is a friend of mine and I feel sorry she's not here. It's always a pity to mix politics and sport. But the WTA is looking into it."

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see also
Tennis on the BBC
31 Jan 09 |  Tennis
Ivanovic takes revenge in Dubai
16 Feb 09 |  Tennis

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