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.”
Given that visiting athletes aren’t particularly safe in Pakistan these days, this news comes as no surprise:
The Philippines’ tennis authorities have asked Davis Cup organizers to move the July regional playoff against Pakistan from Lahore to Manila due to fears of its players being attacked … Three of the five Filipino players, including Cecil Mamiit, are dual U.S.-Philippine citizens who Villanueva feared may be targeted because of their American passports.
The Sri Lankan cricket team that was attacked in Lahore was actually a replacement club–one that stepped into the breach after another team refused to travel to Pakistan because of safety concerns. That is, fear abounded even before terrorists victimized the Sri Lankan team. Now, it’s certainly going to be difficult for Pakistan to host any manner of international sporting event. That includes the 2011 Cricket World Cup, which Pakistan is in danger of losing. Not good news for a national economy that’s in a freefall …
Get it? “Served”? In a post about tennis? Truly, “Headless Body in Topless Bar” has nothing on this one …
Anyhow, remember that some local officials in Sweden ordered the Sweden-Israel Davis Cup matches to be played before an empty arena because of the threat of Islamist terrorism? Well, that’s precisely what happened. And Israel responded by pulling off a stunning comeback and advancing to the World Group quarterfinals for just the second time in history.
So the Muslim community in Malmo, Sweden is set to protest–perhaps violently–the Israeli tennis team when they take on Sweden in the upcoming Davis Cup. The response of skittish city officials? Hold the match in an empty stadium. Quite honestly, the last time I remember something like this happening was 1981 in the politically riven city of Memphis …
In any event, this is a shameful capitulation on the part of Malmo city leaders. The Israeli athletes deserve better, and the extremist elements in Swedish society deserve not the slightest accommodation.
Chinese tennis star Zheng Jie recently defied a WTA ranking of 133 to barge into the Wimbledon semis. That was story enough, but what’s also notable is that she won’t keep any of the $350,000 she earned in prize money. A significant portion will go to aid Chinese earthquake victims, which is of course a good thing. However, the rest of her winnings will go to the Chinese Tennis Association, which is of course a coerced thing. So it is for all of China’s “professional” athletes.