The New York Times reports today that the Tennis Channel has decided to cancel its coverage of the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships this week because the United Arab Emirates refused to grant an entry visa to Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer. Peer, who is ranked as the 48th best women tennis player in the world, was scheduled to play in the tournament. The reaction of the Tennis Channel (available on some local cable networks as well as on channel 217 on Direct TV) was in contrast to that of the WTA Tour which has decided not to cancel the event itself even though its director voiced his dismay about Peer’s exclusion.
As Times sports columnist Harvey Araton reported on Sunday, WTA director Tony Scott gave the impression that it was too late to spike the whole affair. However Scott has warned his business partners in the Emirates that they will lose the tournament, one of the more important events on the women’s calendar after the four grand slams, if they pull a stunt like this next year. Also interesting was the reaction of Peer. In Araton’s article, he quotes Scott as saying that Peer’s family called for caution.
“They didn’t want all the players to be harmed because of one,” Scott said. “We talked to our players and told them that something terrible has happened here, but every single one would be punished if we were to cancel.”
Let’s be clear about the “punishment” he is referencing. Nobody on the tennis tour is going to be arrested. He is talking about the large sums of money each of the WTA players have been guaranteed by the Dubai promoters in order to get them to play in their desert resort. Araton quotes American star Venus Williams as saying: “All the players support Shahar …. We are all athletes, and we stand for tennis.” That’s nice but they don’t support the right of a Jewish player traveling on her own Israeli passport to play in places that the rest of the tour’s pros are allowed to visit. Araton applauds Williams for standing up for Peer and notes that as African-Americans, Venus and her sister Serena have good reason to worry about the precedent. But if Peer’s fellow tour members merely say they “support” her and then go and play in tournaments where she has been banned, that is hardly a courageous stand. It would be more or less as if members of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 had said they supported Jackie Robinson’s right to play baseball in segregated cities but then went ahead and played without him in places where he was banned. Of course, that is exactly what all major league players did, to their shame, prior to 1947 when the color line was broken by Robinson.
One suspects that Peer is reluctant to make trouble for her fellow players because to do so would be difficult in the close-knit tour. It’s also possible that she will wind up, one way or the other, getting her share of the loot from the Dubai tournament. And Scott and the WTA stand to lose a lot of money if they stand up for their principles. Still, that’s all the more reason to applaud the Tennis Channel and its CEO Ken Solomon for not letting the Emirates get away with this rank bit of anti-Israeli prejudice.
Israel’s treatment by international sports associations has always been a scandal. In sports like soccer and basketball, their national teams have always been forced to play in European regionals where they have little chance of success, rather than against other Asian competitors because Arab and Islamic countries refuse to play against Israelis. The Peer case is just one more example of how anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish prejudice is the one form of acceptable bias in international forums.