Saturday, 21 February 2009

No love in Dubai tennis tale

I've been thinking about a post on this issue for a few days now, and I still can't decide where I fall on it. I am leaning towards supporting the tennis player involved however.

If you are not familiar with the story, I'll summarise it for you. Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer has been denied a visa to compete in a tournament in Dubai - in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has said that, after the three week conflict/ Israeli aggression against Palestinians (delete depending on your point of view) tensions are still running high in the region and they were concerned for the player's safety.

Now, I can understand that sentiment. But there are two things that make me somewhat suspicious about their motives here:

1) They have given a visa to another Israeli tennis player, Andy Ram, so he can compete in the same event. Why is his safety not at risk? And even if it was, shouldn't it be up to the player to decide whether they feel safe attending an event?

2) The UAE doesn't have diplomatic relations with Israel. Which suggests that they may have looked for the first opportunity they could to send a message to Israel. They've said they "don't want to politicise sport" but wanted to be sensitive to recent events in the region.

Now, like I said, I'm not so sure about where I stand on this one. In an earlier post on the subject of Israel's actions I compared the division of peoples there to South Africa under the apartheid regime. I know there are flaws in the comparison, but I maintain that the cases have some similarities. Anyway, the point I'm making is that when the South African government decided that it would have two classes of people, the world stood up and said "that's not one" and boycotted South African goods and - crucially, for this argument - their sports teams were not allowed to participate in international events.

Now I know that is not why Dubai has stopped Peer from participating in the event there - they've given the player's safety as the main reason. But really, if it had been for that reason, would people have reacted in the same way?

Like I say, I have sympathy for Peer. She hasn't any way of shaping Israeli policy. She just wants to play tennis. But South Africa's sporting stars just wanted to play sport too.

The boycott of South Africa worked. Maybe it is time we started giving Israel some tough love too.


Sam 21 February 2009 at 11:02  

The boycott of South Africa was an internationally-agreed process that was part of a whole package of sanctions aimed at that country.

This the action of one bigoted state that is targeting not a country, Israel, but an individual, Shahar Peer, because of their religion, Jewish. Though actually I have no idea how Jewish she is, the visa policies of Dubai are not too bothered either. Yossi Benayoun, Liverpool's Israeli footballer, was similarly denied entry in 2006.

My personal feelings on Israel are that its army & leaders are guilty of war crimes, that its treatment of Gaza and its own Arab population amount to crimes against humanity.

But this is not a view the world shares, or that Israel's allies would allow to affect it. Without that international condemnation this kind of treatment targets only individuals who have no influence on their countries actions.

This action by Dubai actually has nothing to do with the legitimacy of sports boycotts. The only reason Andy Ram was later granted a visa was because of the pressure put on Dubai by sports authorities. Dubai was scared of losing the massive incomes it generates from hosting international sport.

Boycotting Israel might be a good idea. This is not the way to do it.

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