NEW YORK (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged Israeli tennis star Andy Ram to boycott the Dubai tennis tournament.
Ram, ranked 12th in the world in doubles play, received a visa Feb. 19 to enter the United Arab Emirates to play in the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships following international criticism over the country’s decision not to allow Israeli Shachar Pe’er to play in the women’s competition.
"I was a bit surprised to discover that Andy Ram did intend to go there," Ha’aretz quoted Olmert as saying Sunday. "It would be highly worthwhile for someone to advise him to demonstrate patriotism and solidarity and boycott the tournament."
Meanwhile, Andy Roddick, the men’s defending champion, reportedly announced Feb. 21 that he would skip the tournament Feb. 25 to March 9, citing the failure to grant an entry visa to Pe’er.
"I just don’t feel like there’s a need for that in a sporting event," Roddick said, following his match at a tournament in Memphis, Tenn. "I don’t think you make political statements through sports."
Venus Williams, who won the women’s tournament in Dubai, used her remarks in the winner’s circle Feb. 21 to express regret over Pe’er’s absence.
It was "a shame that one of our players couldn’t be here," Williams said. The U.S. player later cited the struggles of earlier black players in explaining her own decision to speak out.
In explaining the decision to deny Pe’er a visa, UAE officials cited concerns for her safety, saying that her presence would enrage fans upset over Israeli actions in Gaza. The decision sparked strong protests in tennis circles, as well as among Jewish organizations and U.S. lawmakers. The Tennis Channel canceled its broadcast of the men’s tournament in protest.
As the protests mounted, the UAE let it be known that it was allowing Ram to play in the men’s tournament.
Still, the governing body of women’s tennis fined organizers of the tournament $300,000 — the highest ever — since the UAE has a formal role in hosting the event. A portion of the money reportedly is going to Pe’er and doubles partner Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany, according to the French news agency AFP. In addition, the tournament will be required to post a $2 million guarantee next year to ensure that such a decision is not made again.