Tuesday, February 17, 2009

UAE Denies Visa to Israeli Tennis Player Shahar Peer

From CNN.com:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- The United Arab Emirates has refused to grant a visa to a female Israeli tennis player, preventing her from competing in the Sony Ericsson World Tennis Association Tour in Dubai, the WTA said in a statement Sunday.
The UAE has refused to grant a visa allowing Shahar Peer to compete in Dubai.

Shahar Peer would have been the first Israeli athlete to participate in a professional sporting event in the UAE, CNN Sports correspondent Pedro Pinto said.

Obviously, any sport suffers when worthy athletes are not allowed to compete.

My first thought upon reading this was that there's precedent for this sort of thing. During Apartheid many South African athletes were barred from international competition. Some would argue that Israel's treatment of Palestinian Arabs is similar to the white South African government's treatment of the nation's black majority. There's some validity to this argument, although the two situations are hardly analogous. In South Africa it was obvious to the international community (once the international community decided to care) which side was the victim and which was the oppressor. The situation in Israel/Palestine is much more complicated. Both sides can legitimately claim victimhood; and both sides have acted reprehensibly. At any rate, punishing Israeli or Palestinian athletes for the sins of their governments helps no one and does nothing to end the conflict in the Middle East. (Barring South African athletes, by contrast, was part of a larger effort of isolation that eventually helped to end Apartheid.)

Perhaps more significantly, the precedent does not hold because the UAE government, and not the WTA nor a coalition of tennis-playing nations, is preventing Shahar Peer from competing. We're not talking about UN sanctions here. We're talking about a single nation interfering in an international sport without the blessing of the international community or the sport's governing body.

The WTA has exacerbated the problem by failing to intervene even though WTA policy says that "no player should be barred from competing in a tournament for which she has qualified." The tournament began Sunday sans Peer. The WTA is considering removing Dubai from the tour next year.

As an aside, Scot McKnight, of Beliefnet's Jesus Creed blog, prefaces his post on this subject with, "Very sad. If this were an Arab or an African, there would be an outcry." I want to go on record as saying that I hate any argument that takes the form of "Imagine the outcry if it had been a conservative/liberal/Muslim/Christian" or "No one would be complaining if this had happened to a man/woman/black person/white person." You can't prove a point with a hypothetical. If you want to argue that the situation would have been handled differently if an Arab or African had been denied a visa, give specific and recent examples that illustrate the disproportionate outrage. Otherwise, you don't have an argument. Also, who's to say that people are not or won't be outraged by Peer's story? The story broke on Sunday, and I read about it on multiple blogs (all of which expressed outrage) on Monday.


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