Professional tennis player Shahar Peer was already the first Israeli female athlete to compete in the United Arab Emirates, and this past week she made another piece of diplomatic history. Peer caused a political tremor two years ago when, after much wrangling and fiercely strict security arrangements, she was eventually allowed to enter the Dubai Open. Her admission was preceded by a convoluted refusal to grant her a UAE visa the year before in 2009. This year, by contrast, Peer was actually invited to take part in the tournament.
The invite came through a wild card entry, a Womenâ€™s Tennis Association (WTA) regulation which permits tournaments to seek competitors who are unable to gain automatic acceptance through a high world ranking. â€œI think itâ€™s an amazing gesture,â€ Peer told the press. â€œItâ€™s not something that you just think is going to come naturally. So itâ€™s an overcome [sic] for them and I really appreciate it,â€ she added, meaning that there were obstacles to overcome before the decision could be made.
Amongst them are the living arrangements, changing and dining facilities separate from other players, a designated and protected outside court for all Peerâ€™s matches, bodyguards, and, in the past at least, snipers hidden in strategic locations. â€œI really appreciate them coming forward and giving this to me,â€ Peer added. â€œI think weâ€™re doing amazing things here in the last few years, so I think itâ€™s very good for everybody.â€
She was asked whether her courageous appearances had had a big impact back home. â€œActually they talk all the time â€“ it doesnâ€™t matter whether Iâ€™m here or not,â€ answered the Jerusalem-born pioneer. â€œObviously itâ€™s also a big thing for us as Israelis, what Iâ€™ve been doing here the last few years, so they really support and appreciate it. Theyâ€™re always putting it in the news,â€ Peer said. â€œI think 2010 was one of the top two or three tournaments ever for me. I also played really well at the Australian Open when I got to the quarters. But I played some of my best tennis here. Iâ€™ve beaten two top 10 players and two other top 20 players so it has been an amazing week for me.â€
Her presence in Dubai has both been good for cultural and political progress in the Middle East, and excellent public relations for a possible Dubai Olympic bid in 2024. It has also been an inspiration for the player herself. This year Peer started her tournament by defeating an Arab Muslim, Fatma Al Nabhani of Oman, 6-3, 6-1.