UAE faces deadline on Israeli tennis player entry

The Association of Tennis Professionals has given the United Arab Emirates a Friday evening deadline to decide whether to grant a visa to Andy Ram.

updated: February 19, 2009 17:05 IST
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The Association of Tennis Professionals has given the United Arab Emirates a Friday evening deadline to decide whether to grant a visa to Israeli tennis player Andy Ram, the player's agent said.

The small, Arab Gulf nation banned Israeli woman tennis star Shahar Peer earlier this week from entering the country to participate in the lucrative Dubai Tennis Championships and has yet to respond to Ram's request to play in the men's tournament next week.

Organizers said they feared fan anger over Israel's recent military offensive in the Gaza Strip would spill into riots if Peer were to play.

The tennis world has harshly criticized the UAE for its ban of Israelis, with top past and present women players coming to Peer's defense, including Billie Jean King and Venus and Serena Williams.

Tennis governing officials warned that holding future tennis events in Dubai could be in doubt if the ban on Israelis persisted.

The ATP, the men's governing body, has said the UAE must 'make the right decision' regarding Ram. The world's 7th-ranked doubles player is competing in a tournament in France and could not be reached for comment.

In Israel, his agent, Amit Naor, told that his client is planning to play and has already booked a ticket to Dubai. Naor said the ATP has given Dubai a Friday evening deadline to announce its intentions regarding Ram's visa.

Ram's doubles partner, Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe, has already been granted one.

Naor said the ATP would likely come down hard on the Dubai tournament if Ram is denied, but that canceling the tournament this year was out of the question.

The controversy could undermine the UAE's desire to host big-time global sporting events. The Peer incident has already tarnished the country's reputation. The Tennis Channel canceled plans to televise the women's tournament, and the Wall Street Journal Europe withdrew as one of its sponsors.

A prominent group of Jewish American leaders has urged the Women's Tennis Association to punish the UAE for banning Peer and called on international tennis authorities to cancel the men's tournament if Ram is not allowed to participate.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he had dispatched a letter to Dubai authorities urging them to reconsider their stand.

"I hope they got the message and don't compound one mistake with another," he said in Jerusalem.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, announced on Wednesday that the UAE ambassador to the US informed him that Ram would be granted a visa. But Ram's agent said he has not heard anything official from tennis officials.

The UAE's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Ram's visa status. The tournament's director did not answer repeated calls from AP and neither did the director of Dubai's Naturalization and Residency Department.

The ATP had no comment till Thursday on Ram's visa status. The ban on Israeli athletes is just the latest fallout for Israel from its three-week-long offensive against militants in Gaza. Nearly 1,300 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed in the fighting.

The operation was heavily criticized around the world and sparked a public spat with the leader of Turkey, war crimes allegations and broken ties with Venezuela, Bolivia and Qatar.

On Wednesday, Swedish authorities said that Sweden and Israel will play their first-round Davis Cup tennis match in an empty arena next month because of security concerns.

Several anti-Israel demonstrations are planned during the best-of-five series, which will be played March 6-8 at the 4,000-seat Baltic Hall. The city's recreational committee said it could not guarantee security for the fans.