Diplomatic solution as Peer receives wild card into Dubai event


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The Independent Online

The very idea of an organisation here in the United Arab Emirates choosing to invite an Israeli to take part in a sporting event is highly improbable, given that there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries. The idea of such an invitation being extended to an Israeli once at the centre of a furore that threatened the future of one of the UAE's most important competitions might have seemed even more unlikely – but exactly that scenario is being played out here at this week's Dubai Duty Free Championships.

Three years after the UAE refused to grant Shahar Peer a visa to play in the tournament, the 24-year-old Israeli is here courtesy of a wild card. Peer, who was subsequently allowed into the country to play in the event in 2010 and 2011, did not have a high enough world ranking to gain direct entry this time, but has made such a good impression here in the last two years that Salah Tahlak, the tournament director, gave her a wild card.

Peer, who reached the semi-finals two years ago, meets Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round of the singles today and is through to the same stage of the doubles after joining forces with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez to beat the fancied Australians Sam Stosur and Casey Dellacqua yesterday.

"I'm really happy to be here," Peer said. "I really appreciate them coming forward. I think we've been doing amazing things here in the last few years, so I think it's very good for everybody."

Peer's exclusion in 2009, when the tournament said her presence "would have antagonised our fans" because of Israel's military intervention in Gaza, cost the event a record fine of $300,000 (£190,000) by the Women's Tennis Association. Organisers were also warned the WTA would not sanction the tournament in future if there was any repeat.

Peer herself has had nothing but praise for the event – even though all her matches are played amid tightened security on an outside court and she has to change in a separate room from all the other women.