Source: Ram Also Denied Visa for Dubai
Andy Ram will likely join fellow Israeli Shahar Peer as a casualty in the growing black eye for the men’s and women’s tours in the Middle East. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the doubles specialist’s visa application to compete in next Monday’s Dubai event has been rejected by the United Arab Emirates, putting the ATP and WTA tours' relationship with that country in severe jeopardy.
The news comes two days after the 45th-ranked Peer was handed a last-minute visa denial to play in the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships that kicked off in the Persian Gulf state Sunday.
RAM (left) and ERLICH
The ATP Tour has not made any public comment and it’s not even clear that they have even been notified. They could be waiting to see if the situation can be rectified before Sunday, the last day Ram can enter the tournament.
The expected rejection would cast Ram and partner Jonathan Erlich’s decision to pull out of the Dubai event a year ago in a more dubious light. The two Israeli doubles players said publicly after winning the 2008 Australian Open they intended to compete in Dubai, but have refused to elaborate in detail about why they decided at the 11th hour not to go.
The tandem’s former agent, Norman Canter, sought seven-figure compensation from the ATP, the Dubai tournament and its sponsors following the unexplained withdrawal. In an extraordinary move, the ATP board, then led by departed executive chairman Etienne de Villiers, reimbursed the doubles pair for their travel expenses.
In Australia last month, Ram, 28, said that he wanted to play at the $2.3 million Persian Gulf tournament, if for no other reason than it had been upgraded to a “500” status event with more ranking points and prize money.
“For me, going there would be like going to another tournament,” said the Uruguay-born Ram, who with Erlich would have been the first Israeli athletes to compete in the UAE, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
The 11th-ranked Ram did not immediately return emails seeking comment. Erlich is recovering from right elbow surgery has not played since last September’s U.S. Open. He is not seeking to enter the $2.3 million tournament.
Last month in Melbourne, Ram gave the same muddled explanation for last year's about face: that the documentation he and Erlich needed to travel to Dubai was late in arriving; that Erlich got cold feet; and ultimately, they did not press the issue by boarding a plane to find out if they would be allowed to enter. “We didn’t do everything we could to go,” he said. Whether they could have entered is “in the air,” he said.
The rejection of Peer and presumably of Ram puts Dubai’s place in tennis calendar in danger. In order to be sanctioned by the ATP or WTA, tournaments must accept entries of players only on the basis of ranking. Otherwise, they risk fines or de-sanctioning.
The Dubai tournament is owned by Dubai Duty Free, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dubai government. Dubai is one of seven emirates that make up the UAE.
Fortunately or not, the ATP now gets a heads up on the kind of bad press such discrimination can create. The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, which already has a presence in the Middle East and has located its year-end championships in the neighboring Persian Gulf state of Qatar from 2008-10, is already feeling the fallout.
WTA CEO Larry Scott was bombarded with messages from around the world Monday and sent out his own conciliatory missive thanking people for their “support and feedback.”
International Tennis Federation president Francesco Ricci Bitti criticized the UAE Monday.
“The ITF fully supports the principle that the international ranking is the principal means of entry for players into sanctioned tournaments,” he said in a statement. “In addition, the ITF will be in contact with the UAE Tennis Association to remind them that the ITF constitution does not permit discrimination on any grounds.”
It’s no small irony that the ATP’s most luminous figure, Roger Federer, owns a second home in Dubai. The 13-time major winner spends more time living and training there than he does in his native Switzerland.
If the players had any guts, they would boycott the Dubai tournaments in support of their colleagues who have been denied the chance to compete and earn a living based on nothing but the passports they carry. That won’t happen in the fractious world of tennis, even though several players, Venus Williams among them, have spoken out about the UAE decision. The financial stakes are too high -- the two tournaments are worth more than $4 million in prize money -- not to mention appearance fees and lavish treatment top players receive. Some stay at the seven-star Burj El Arab, perhaps the ritziest hotel in the world.
Ram could ultimately decline to enter the tournament, as he and Erlich did last year. Some have suggested to me that the ATP persuaded them to do so. In interviews since, Ram told me that if he were denied entry to Dubai this year, he would be more public about it. The chance to live up to his word should be coming very soon.