The WTA event in Dubai has flexed its oil muscle over the years, buying a top-level event on the WTA calendar, handing out hearty under-the-table appearance fees to get all the top player in attendance, and now in 2009 — denying players entrance to the draw based on their nationality — and getting away with it.
Player Shahar Peer had her visa for this week’s Dubai Tennis Championship rejected by the United Arab Emirates over the weekend because she is Israeli.
WTA CEO Larry Scott was quick to respond that the WTA has a “clear rule and policy” that tournaments cannot deny any player entry to a tournament based on their nationality, that Peer and her family are “obviously extremely upset and disappointed by the decision” — and that the WTA will let the Dubai event dictate the situation and go on as planned.
“Following various consultations, the tour has decided to allow the tournament to continue to be played this week, pending further review by the tour’s board of directors,” Scott said.
So it is a rule that the Dubai organizers were familiar with, and they knowingly broke it, but the show goes on? And rather than the tour saying ‘Peer plays this event, or we’re shutting this down,’ the response is, ‘OK, we’ll ‘let’ you do this, but we’re speaking about this later! Wait until your father gets home!’
Peer was reportedly assured by both WTA officials and tournament sponsors ahead of time that her visa would not be a problem.
The situation is still too new for many to respond to, but what about Peer’s fellow players? Are they going to stand for a tournament booting one of their own, or will their pocket their cash and give the standard ‘I’m here to play tennis, not get involved in politics’ reply (which is already what Ana Ivanovic has offered, rightly or wrongly so)?
Is it more than politics when your fellow players are flat-out denied jobs due to their nationality, clearly in violation of WTA rules? What if next time it is the Serbs, or Russians?
With a lack of tour leadership, how about some player leadership? Someone call Billie Jean King, because besides Peer and her family, no one seems to be too ruffled about a tournament (and a very powerful tournament at that, as Dubai Duty Free is one of the tour’s biggest sponsors) now making the rules.
“All the players support Shahar,” Venus Williams told the AP, adding the qualifier that “support” means following whatever the WTA does. “The players have to be unified and support the tour whichever direction they take on the issue.”
Apparently for the time being, the players will support no direction, and the WTA Tour gets a week of bad PR via poor damage control.
Speaking of things spiraling, the WTA will face ANOTHER big test of character next month in Indian Wells.
The strict new 2009 WTA rules say the top players must play all the top events, including Indian Wells. Indian Wells is where the Williams sisters say they will not play (and haven’t played for years) after experiencing what they termed a racist incident (getting booed after Venus pulled minutes before an all-Williams semifinal citing a knee injury. Poppa Richard Williams also claimed he heard racist remarks shouted from the crowd).
Rather than forcing the Williams to abide by the rules and play Indian Wells, the tour has created what many are calling the “Williams Rule,” where instead of playing the event they can perform certain media duties to promote the event or event location.
“It’s very unprofessional,” ESPN commentator Bud Collins said of the Williams sisters’ Indian Wells boycott, speaking to the Herald Sun newspaper during the Australian Open. “Athletes get booed, but they said they don’t care what kind of tournament it is, and they’re making the WTA bend. If it was anyone else who did that they would be fined and suspended.”
And if a Peer-type situation happened at, say, a little event like Hobart (‘No Kiwis in the draw! We don’t like Kiwis!’) or Budapest (‘We don’t like…anybody! Only Hungarians in the draw!’), would the WTA have immediately nipped it in the bud rather than letting a sponsor/tournament/nation blatantly break the rules?
Between Dubai and the Williams sisters, 2009 will apparently be a benchmark year in determining who in actuality runs the women’s tour.
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