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Dubai says feared local fans' boycott

LOCAL tennis fans would have boycotted the Dubai women's championships if Israeli player Shahar Peer had been allowed to compete this week, organizers claimed yesterday.

The United Arab Emirates, 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 antagonized 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 politicize 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 killed 1,300 Palestinians.

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

Peer, ranked 45th, backed the WTA's decision to allow the tournament to be staged this week.

"While this is a very difficult moment for me personally and professionally, and the fact that the visa denial was issued at the last moment, I firmly believe that my fellow competitors should not be harmed the way I was," Peer said in a statement. "They were in or on their way to Dubai and denying them the right to play in this year's tournament at the last moment would not make the wrong right."

The episode could be replicated next week since Israel's doubles specialist Andy Ram has applied for a visa to compete in the men's Dubai tournament starting on Monday.


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