LONDON: The United Arab Emirates defused a political storm on Thursday after it was forced to change its policy of barring Israeli athletes from competing in the Gulf state.
Five days after Shahar Peer was excluded from competing at the women’s Dubai Championships, her fellow Israeli Andy Ram was given “special permission” by UAE authorities to play in the men’s equivalent next week.
The u-turn prevented a potential international sporting boycott of the UAE and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chief Larry Scott said he had been assured all Israeli athletes would now be given “a special permit” by the UAE government to enter the country if they have qualified for a tournament.
“They had no idea of the international condemnation and the ripple effects, not just in the world of sport but beyond ... that they were starting to feel, in the worlds of business, arts, culture,” Scott said in an interview.
“I had been in touch with heads of several other sports and people in the Olympic movement and there was shock and dismay over this decision (to deny Peer a visa) and real concern as to what the implications would be.
“I know certain organisations called for a sporting boycott or suspension of all sporting activities in the UAE until this policy was changed. So there were potential ramifications for all other sports.”
With players, officials, Jewish leaders and sponsors condemning the stand taken by the UAE, pressure was mounting on the ATP to cancel the men’s event if Ram was also denied entry.
“This is a great victory for the principle that all athletes should be treated equally and without discrimination, regardless of gender, religion, race or nationality,” Peer said.
“It is also a victory for sport as a whole, and the power of sport to bring people together.
“It is still very unfortunate that due to the decision of the Dubai tournament and the UAE, I could not participate in the tournament this year. This has hurt me significantly both personally and professionally,” she added. Peer hoped this episode would send out a message to the rest of the world and would never be repeated.
“I hope and believe that from this day forward, athletes from all over the world will be able to compete in the UAE and anywhere else in the world without discrimination of any kind,” she said. “I look forward to competing in Dubai next year.” — Reuters
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