DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will allow Israel’s Andy Ram to play in the men’s Dubai Championships next week, the state news agency WAM said on Thursday.
A UAE foreign ministry official was quoted as saying the doubles specialist would be given “special permission” to take part.
“This... does not politically imply any form of normalization with countries with which the UAE has no diplomatic relations,” the official told WAM.
Top Israeli player Shahar Peer had to forfeit her place in the women’s tournament in Dubai this week after the UAE blocked her visa application.
However, on Thursday Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chief Larry Scott said he had been assured that all Israeli athletes would be given “a special permit” by the UAE government to enter the country if they have qualified for a tournament.
“We welcome the change of the UAE policy which will allow Andy Ram to play this week in Dubai and which clarifies that all Israeli athletes will be able to compete in future tournaments in UAE,” Scott said in a statement.
Tournament officials defended the stance to exclude Peer, saying local fans would have boycotted the event if an Israeli was allowed to compete and that her safety could also have been compromised.
“The fact that people want to harm the (Israeli players) is simply an excuse,” Ram’s regular doubles partner Jonathan Erlich, who has been sidelined with an injury, told Israeli Army Radio.
“As far as I’m concerned, they can surround the players with the entire army, the players need to be able to play.”
The UAE, like most Arab countries, has no diplomatic ties with Israel and routinely denies entry to its citizens.
Tensions have been heightened after the three-week Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip, which killed 1,300 Palestinians and 14 Israelis. Although the conflict ended in January it caused deep anger around the Arab and Muslim worlds.
The refusal to issue a visa to Peer violated WTA Tour rules, which state any player should be able to compete where she wishes if she has the required ranking.
After players, officials, Jewish leaders and even some sponsors condemned the UAE for excluding Peer, pressure mounted on the men’s ATP tournament to be canceled if Ram was also denied entry.
“I am pleased that the UAE have today confirmed that I will be able to travel to their country next week to compete in the Dubai Tennis Championships,” Ram said in a statement.
“As a professional tennis player, I thrive on competing at the world’s best events and next week will be no different.”
ATP chief Adam Helfant added: “The UAE government has made the right decision.
“No player, who qualifies to play an ATP World Tour event, should be denied their right to compete on the basis of ethnicity, nationality or religion and we are happy that the Dubai Tennis Championships and the UAE have shown that they share that view.” If the ban on Israelis had persisted, tennis governing bodies warned future tournaments in Dubai could be scrapped.
Despite the u-turn by UAE authorities on Thursday, Scott said the WTA would still take action against the women’s tournament for barring Peer.
“Shahar Peer is owed all of our thanks for her courage in challenging an unjust policy and for forcing action to be taken that resulted in today’s announcement,” Scott said.
“It is deeply regrettable that Shahar had to suffer the negative consequences of the UAE decision this past week in order for this policy to get turned around for the benefit of others.
“What happened to Shahar last week was discriminatory, reprehensible and unacceptable, and the Tour will shortly be determining remedies for her, penalties to be imposed on the tournament, and the additional assurances we will require to guarantee all Israeli athletes entry to the UAE so that future tournaments in the UAE may take place.”
additional reporting by Pritha Sarkar in London, editing by Tony Jimenez
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