Dubai welcomes Peer with wildcard
Originally published on: 22/02/12 15:35
Three years after the refusal by the United Arab Emirates to give her a visa put the very future of the Dubai Duty Free Championships in doubt, Shahar Peer is back competing in the event – courtesy of a wild card.
The 24-year-old Israeli, who was subsequently allowed into the UAE to play in the tournament in 2010 and 2011, has slipped to No.40 in the world and did not have a high enough ranking to gain direct entry into this year’s tournament. However, she has made many friends in Dubai in the last two years and Salah Tahlak, the tournament director, was happy to give her a wild card.
Peer, who beat Oman’s Fatma Al Nabhani 6-3, 6-1 in her opening match today, said: “I’m really happy to be here. I really appreciate them coming forward and giving the wild card to me. I think we’ve been doing amazing things here in the last few years, so I think it’s very good for everybody.”
The Israeli was denied entry to the UAE in 2009 at a time when political tensions had been heightened by the conflict in Gaza. The UAE has no diplomatic links with Israel and tournament organisers at the time said her presence “would have antagonised our fans”. The tournament was subsequently fined a record $300,000 by the Women’s Tennis Association and told there must be no repeat.
One year later Peer became the first Israeli woman to compete in the tournament when she was granted a visa – and she responded by reaching the semi-finals. Understandably, her exploits in Dubai have received widespread coverage back home. “It’s a big thing for us as Israelis, what I’ve been doing here the last few years, so they really support and appreciate it,” Peer said.
Peer, who for security reasons has a separate changing room from all the other players, arrived this year with more than 50 presents in her luggage. She has been giving engraved lucky medallions to those who have been looking after her.