The organisers of the Dubai Tennis Championships yesterday said the presence of the Israeli player Shahar Pe'er at the tournament would have outraged fans concerned about the recent attacks on Gaza by Israel. The tournament director, Salah Tahlak, issued the statement yesterday after Pe'er was denied a visa to enter the country. "Public sentiment remains high in the Middle East and it is believed that Ms Pe'er's presence would have antagonised our fans who watched television coverage of recent attacks in Gaza," Mr Tahlak said in the statement.
"Concern was raised about her well-being and her presence triggering similar protests that may have led to the tournament being boycotted. 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 fans of different nationalities we have in the UAE. "[The tournament] respects Ms Shahar Pe'er as a professional tennis player on the Tour. We understand her disappointment and extend our sympathy to her."
Pe'er had been due to travel to Dubai from Thailand where she had competed in the Pattaya Open. She returned to Israel instead. The Women's Tennis Association has criticised the decision to deny Pe'er a visa, saying Dubai's future as a host for the women's event is under review. On the court, Serena Williams beat Sara Errani 4-6, 6-2, 6-0, while defending champion Elena Dementieva won 7-5, 6-2 against Sybille Bammer. Meanwhile Roger Federer announced his withdrawal to rest an injured back.
* With additional reporting by WAM