In February, Israeli women’s tennis player Shahar Peer was denied a visa by the United Arab Emirates and thus could not play in the Dubai Tennis Championships. A week later–thanks mostly to intense international outcry over the Peer incident–Andy Ram became the first Israeli athlete to compete in the UAE, which has no diplomatic relationship with Israel. At the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, Ram lost in the first round and played under extraordinarily heavy security. From a USA Today piece:
Fifteen bodyguards met him at the airport. The six rooms surrounding his hotel suite were blocked off. Two bodyguards stood watch in front of his door, and another kept sentry in the garden outside. He was not allowed to leave his hotel except to go to the tournament site, and he was shuttled in different vehicles … During his opening match, Ram was escorted by two bodyguards and arrived from a different entrance than other players. Fans left belongings outside the court and entered through metal detectors. A bodyguard stood behind his changeover chair. Ram said he also had his own locker room and was not allowed to enter the players’ lounge.
Despite the inconveniences and, one must imagine, the palpable tension and fear, Ram says he’ll return to the UAE next year. That’s to his immense credit, and perhaps this is a belated step toward letting the athletes play their games regardless of political climate. As Ram correctly observes, he did more than momentarily overcome Israeli-Arab-Pan-Arab hostilities:
“I don’t know if I’m happy that I’m the first one in this situation, but I was the first Israeli to play in (the Persian Gulf),” Ram said. “It’s going to open the door for many other athletes, not only Israelis in Dubai but a player from China who wants to play in Taipei or a guy from Serbia who wants to go to Croatia.”