Banned Israeli tennis player: ‘It’s not fair’

Sharar Peer told CNN she learnt of her visa ban on Saturday, just before her scheduled flight to Dubai.
The Israeli tennis player refused an entry visa to Dubai has told CNN she is "very, very disappointed" to have been denied the opportunity to play.

Shahar Peer was due to fly into the United Arab Emirates for the start of the Dubai Tennis Championships on Sunday, but was informed on Saturday night by telephone that she wouldn’t be granted a visa. She had just finished playing in the Pattaya Open in Thailand, where she reached the semi-final. “They really stopped my momentum because now I’m not going to play for two weeks and because they waited for the last minute I couldn’t go to another tournament either,” Peer told CNN from Tel Aviv. “So it’s very disappointing and I think it’s not fair.” Her sentiments were echoed by the chairman and chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association, Larry Scott, who said the decision could lead to the termination of professional tennis in the UAE. “This runs counter to everything we were promised and I think it is a real setback, not only for international tennis, but the whole international sporting community will take note of this,” Scott said. He told CNN Peer’s visa refusal has precedence: last year an Israeli men’s doubles team was denied entry to Dubai. He said the Emirate cited security reasons following recent unrest in the region.

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“At that time I was in Dubai, I made it clear to the authorities, the representatives of the government, that next year when our top players wanted to play this very prestigious tournament all of them had to be allowed to play,” Scott said. “They had a year to work on it and solve it. We’ve spent time through the year discussing it. We were given assurances that it had gone to the highest levels of government,” Scott said. “I was optimistic they would solve it. And we’ve made crystal clear to the government to the tournament organizers that there could be grave repercussions not just for tennis in the UAE but sports beyond that.” Watch CNN’s interview with Larry Scott » The Dubai government issued a short statement through the state-owned news agency, saying that Peer was informed while in Thailand that she would not receive a visa. The agency quoted an official source in the organizing committee saying, “The tournament is sponsored by several national organizations and they all care to be part of a successful tournament, considering the developments that the region had been through.” Earlier an official source who did not want to be named, told CNN: “We should check what happened in New Zealand, when Peer was playing there with all the demonstrations against Israel during the attacks on Gaza. We have to consider securing the players and the tournament.” In January, a small group of about 20 protestors waved placards and shouted anti-Israel slogans outside the main entrance to the ASB Classic tournament in Auckland. They were moved on before Peer played her match. The Israeli player told CNN she’s received phone calls of support from her fellow players. “‘All the players support Shahar,” world number six Venus Williams told The New York Times, adding, “We are all athletes, and we stand for tennis.”

Peer is uncertain of her next move. She told CNN the last-minute decision had left her at a loose end. She said she was concerned about her points and ranking and may go to the U.S. this week to try to take part in another tournament. “I don’t think it should happen,” she told CNN. “I think sport and politics needs to stay on the side and not be involved. I really hope it’s not going to happen again, not only to me but to any other athlete.”