February 20, 2009

William's Sisters Refuse to Take a Stand

Marc Comtois

Sometimes its the sports pages that hold the important cultural news of the day. Today's win-at-all costs sports culture provides plenty of fodder for those of us interested in supplying our youth with teaching moments. The recent admission by Alex Rodriguez that he took steroids is but one example of just one high profile and ongoing saga.

Jim Donaldson calls attention to another, today.

Shame on Venus Williams. And on her sister, Serena, too.

The two of them will meet in the semifinals of the $2 million Dubai Tennis Championships.

They never should have played in the tournament at all.

Not after Shahar Peer, ranked No. 48 in the world, was unable to participate, banned from entering the country because she is an Israeli.

Can you imagine the outrage, the outcry if the Williams sisters were prevented from playing in a sanctioned, World Tennis Association tournament because they’re black?

Yet the barring of Peer, because she’s Jewish, didn’t seem to upset the sisters Williams all that much.

"We can’t let our sponsors down," said Venus, a member of the WTA Players Council. "Our sponsors are extremely important to us."

Which is tantamount to saying: "Money is extremely important to us."

The Williams sisters should have boycotted the tournament. Every American player should have boycotted the tournament. Every member of the WTA should have boycotted the tournament....

The Williams sisters could have been rallying points in Dubai. Instead, the only rallying they have done has been on the court, in pursuit of prize money.

The excuse given by the tournament organizers for banning Peer was that they were concerned about "security" in the wake of Israel’s recent military action in Gaza. Saying Peer’s presence "would have antagonized our fans," the tournament organizers wrote in a statement that they "did not wish to politicize sports, but we have to be sensitive to recent events in the region and not alienate or put at risk the players and the many tennis fans of different nationalities that we have here."

Donaldson also offers an instructive story about Arthur Ashe, who wrote about stands on principle made by John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. No matter the excuse made by the tournament organizers, it's racism, pure and simple.

UPDATE: The World Tennis Association (WTA) has fined the Dubai tournament's organizers. A step in the right direction...

ADDENDUM: A quick personal anecdote: Prior to past business visits to Dubai and other Persian Gulf States, I've had to have my passport "scrubbed" of any existing Israeli Custom's stamps so I wouldn't encounter any "problems" entering the country. The reverse was not true.

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Though I often find Donaldson snobbish and obnoxious, he hit a home run here. This "we cannot guarantee her safety" garbage is essentially an invitation to the bad guys to do something. The Williams sisters, as the top American players, had a chance to show some leadership here. Instead, they took a powder (guess they didn't make enough cash from that Oreos commercial with the Manning boys).
May Tiger Woods show the testicular fortitude the Williams sisters didn't when the Dubai Open golf tournament rolls around, and American horsemen pass when the big international horse race comes up.
For the record, R.I.'s own Jill Craybas, who is still on the women's tennis tour in her mid-30s, did not play Dubai.

Posted by: rhody at February 20, 2009 5:48 PM

If a Jewish American had been denied admission,then the other Americans should have boycotted the tournament.
In this case,it was an Israeli citizen,and Dubai and Israel don't have relations with each other.
Israel is a foreign country.
I'm not sure this was the time and place for the Americans to make a big issue of it.
Dubai probably doesn'twwant Israel to exist,so it was kind of what one would expect.

Posted by: joe bernstein at February 20, 2009 8:29 PM

True, but actually, all of Peer's fellow competitors should've stood up and said no, not just Americans. Just as I would expect other international players to raise hell if an Iranian or Iraqi athlete were barred from a competition in America.
I look at it differently than, say, the U.S. boycotting the Moscow Olympics (though I wish Carter hadn't done it). I'm not big on boycotts, but when the organizers bar a competitor because of her country of origin, that can't be allowed to stand.

Posted by: rhody at February 20, 2009 9:43 PM

The Dubai tennis tournament has been fined a record $300,000 by the WTA for barring Ms. Peer.

Posted by: Monique at February 20, 2009 9:45 PM


I am familiar with the ban on previous visits to Israel being a reson for automatic denial on entry into Dubai. It seems to me that such provisos, supported by Sharia law, should automatically preclude any international sport's governing body from sanctioning events there. Wasn't Pretoria brought down, in part, by such sanctions for its policies of Apartheid?

Also, I read that the same thing is about to happen with an athlete on the men's side. Isn't one time too many? Shouldn't ATP issue an advisory telling their members to scratch from the tourney? Despite the show of wealth I am told that Dubai is not as well off as they seem. Pressure here would make a difference.


Posted by: Jon Scott at February 21, 2009 10:15 AM

Jon, are you talking about the Israeli men's double player? He ended up playing in another tournament this week.

Posted by: rhody at February 21, 2009 6:22 PM

Yes, Dubai eventually caved about the male Israeli tennis player.

H'mm, I wonder if this is also a gender issue.

Posted by: Monique at February 21, 2009 7:21 PM


I was. Does that mean that he chose not to go to Dubai and went somewhere else instead? Too bad. Would've put added pressure on the Dubai organizers.


Posted by: Jon Scott at February 23, 2009 12:48 AM

Do not hang this "Political Issue" around the Williams neck. They don't owe anyone anything. Who boycotted Indian Wells in their support? They are great tennis players not politicians. They made statements about the issue which is all anyone did. Why should they try and save the world, when they know their own country would not try to save them.

Posted by: Lee Williams at February 23, 2009 12:04 PM
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