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Dubai feared fans' boycott if Peer had played

February 17, 2009 18:19 IST

Local tennis fans would have boycotted the Dubai women's championships if Israeli player Shahar Peer had been allowed to compete this week, organisers said on Tuesday.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has no diplomatic links with Israel, denied Peer a visa for the WTA tournament.

"Public sentiment remains high in the Middle East and it is believed that Ms Peer's presence would have antagonised our fans who have watched live television coverage of recent attacks in Gaza," a statement read by tournament director Salah Tahlak said.

"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 and her presence triggering similar protests. Given public sentiment, the entire tournament could have been boycotted by protesters.

"We do not wish to politicise sports, but we have to be sensitive to recent events in the region and not alienate or put at risk the players and the many tennis fans of different nationalities that we have here in the UAE."

The three-week Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip, which killed 1,300 Palestinians and 14 Israelis, caused deep anger around the Arab and Muslim worlds. It ended in January.

The refusal to issue a visa to Peer violates WTA Tour rules, which state that any player should be able to compete where she wishes if she has the required ranking.

A WTA board meeting in Indian Wells next month will discuss the tournament's future.

On Monday an ATP official said the men's tour would review the status of its Dubai tournament starting next Monday.

"We are very disappointed to hear about the decision with Shahar Peer and we are looking at it and are very concerned," ATP board of directors member Justin Gimelstob told Reuters at the San Jose Open.

Israeli doubles specialist Andy Ram has applied for a visa for next week's men's tournament in Dubai and is waiting to hear whether he will be granted entry into the country.

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