Israel's Ram granted entry visa
Tennis player gets green light from UAE amid widespread global attention.
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2009 16:11 GMT

Doubles specialist Andy Ram has been thrust into the political spotlight [GALLO/GETTY]
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 normalisation 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.

Tournament officials defended the stance, saying local fans would have boycotted the event if an Israeli was allowed to compete and that Peer's safety could also have been compromised.

Diplomatic wrangling

The UAE, like most Arab countries, has no diplomatic ties with Israel and routinely denies entry to Israelis.

Tensions have been heightened after the three-week Israeli offensive against Gaza, 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 cancelled if Ram was also denied entry.

If the ban on Israelis had persisted, tennis governing bodies warned future tournaments in Dubai could be scrapped.

"I am pleased that the efforts to secure Andy Ram's visa to compete in... Dubai next week have been successful," ATP chief Adam Helfant said in a statement.

Ram and Jonathan Erlich pose with the winners' trophy at the Australian Open [EPA]
'Right decision'

"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."

Before Ram's entry was confirmed, Women's Tennis Association chief Larry Scott said: "I would be very pleased if as a result of this awful situation some good could possibly come out of it, where there is a revision to the decision of their (UAE's) policy.

"I've always believed sport should be separate from politics and political intervention.

"If that (Ram getting a visa) winds up being the outcome that would be a very positive thing."

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