The future of the $2 million Dubai Open may be at risk after player Shahar Peer was prevented from competing in the event, which starts Sunday and and fueled a black-market for tickets selling at seven times their face value.
The world number 48 from Israel has been denied a visa into the Gulf state, bringing a strongly worded statement from the Women's Tennis Association, which runs the women's tennis tour in which top-ranked U.S. star Venus Williams was expected to win.
Peer's blackage came as a surprise since she was given a visa to play in the Qatar Open in Doha last year, a visit which was a considerable success both in tennis and diplomatic terms.
"We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the United Arab Emirates denying Shahar Peer a visa that would permit her to enter the country to play in the Dubai Tennis Championships," said Larry Scott, chief executive of the WTA.
"Ms. Peer has earned the right to play in the tournament and it is regrettable that the UAE is denying her this right.”
The change in relations between Israel and Arab states, following Israel’s offensive in Gaza last month, is almost certainly the reason for a change of attitude in the United Arab Emirates, though no one from the government authorities answered several calls Sunday from AlArabiya.net.
But the show must go on, organizers said, noting that the tour would be reviewing “appropriate future actions” regarding the Dubai tournament, in which U.S. star Venus Williams will play.
"Following various consultations, the Tour has decided to allow the tournament to continue to be played this week, pending further review by the Tour's board of directors,” said Scott.
"The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour believes very strongly, and has a clear rule and policy, that no host country should deny a player the right to compete at a tournament for which she has qualified by ranking."
He added that Peer and her family were “obviously extremely upset and disappointed by the decision of the UAE and its impact on her personally and professionally.”
Colm McLoughlin, the managing director of Dubai Duty Free, the owners and organisers of the tournament, declined to give a comment to AFP and several calls by AlArabiya.net to the press department went unanswered.
Fans still plan to attend
Mike Parito, an avid tennis fan who organizes the weekly Dubai Expats Tennis meets every weekend, said he was disappointed to her about the decision since it would skew the tournament’s results and detracted from the UAE’s attempts to manage its image.
“It will complicate matters and create an impact on the UAE being a westernized Arab country," he told AlArabiya.net.
“It’s sad for the tennis community but I hope that the tennis associations for men and ladies around the world will do something about that,” Parito added. “But in fact having an Israeli or Jewish player here is not really that threatening, we would love to see her.”
He said he still planned on attending the Dubai Open however.
Tickets to the tennis compeition were a hot commodity in Dubai, where the 150 dirham ($42) tickets were being resold on the black market for as much as 1,000 dirham ($272), according to press reports, despite a ban on the resale of tickets.