Ram Waits; His Lawyer Talks
A second source with excellent connections in Dubai confirmed to me Tuesday that Andy Ram’s visa will be denied. That news has still not been officially communicated through the ATP or any other source, and even so, it’s possible that the United Arab Emirates government will bend and change course considering the storm of negative attention the barring of Shahar Peer has generated. Meantime, everyone waits.
Ram’s lawyer, the former Israeli Davis Cup player Amit Naor, told me from Tel Aviv yesterday that the ATP is putting enormous pressure on UAE officials to deliver the goods they promised after last year’s murky circumstances involving Ram and his partner Jonathan Erlich, who pulled out from the Dubai event at the last minute. As another source told me, “(The tournament) essentially got away with it once last year on the basis of security – the assassination of Hezbollah leader (in the weeks before the tournament).”
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Dubai can no longer be given the benefit of the doubt. After the internal ATP brouhaha last year’s withdrawal created, tour officials told me they had given the Dubai organizers a deadline of Wimbledon to come up with written assurances that Erlich and Ram or any other Israeli could play in Dubai. The tour later told me those assurances were delivered, though they never provided any evidence. Of the numerous damning issues hovering here is that tournament organizers, the UAE government and both tours had a year in which to figure this out. It’s not as if they didn’t see it coming. “The issue is there already,” said Naor. “If they were so concerned they should have dealt with it three months ago. Now they have created an issue over a player wanting to play a match.”
Naor insisted that Ram has no agenda other than to play tennis and earn a living. “He didn’t want to go play with a flag of Israel on his back,” he said. “He’s just a guy who wanted to play a doubles match, for God’s sake. Andy’s only wish is to go there and play win matches and go back to his pregnant wife. It’s a lot of money. It’s a lot of points. This is what he lives off. He’s not playing Dubai to provoke anyone. Andy would really like to play big events, regardless of if it’s in Dubai.”
Naor surprisingly didn’t come down on the tournament itself. He actually complimented the event and speculated that he situation is beyond its control. He also said that the ATP was doing all it could and he doubted that Ram would have to take legal action against the tour, the tournament or its sponsors if he is denied entry. The former pro player (who reached a career high of No. 245 in 1987) seemed confident that whatever the result the tour will do the right thing.
Naor warned, however, that both tours are on the cusp of creating a dangerous precedent in the sport of tennis, where ranking, not passports or national boundaries, is the only legitimate criteria for entry. If today it’s Dubai barring Israelis, then tomorrow it could be China banning Taiwanese. “We do not want it to become an epidemic,” Naor said.
If UAE officials change course and allow Ram to play, how they would explain barring Peer and then permitting Ram is anyone’s guess. Have security issues eased in the past week? Naor said the ATP had given the UAE government a deadline of Thursday or Friday to come to a decision. Naor was not hopeful, based on the treatment Peer received. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going to happen,” he said. “I’ll be surprised” if they let him play, he added. By the way, I haven’t seen it reported with whom Ram has entered Dubai. Naor told me it’s Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe. My story on Ram in today's USA Today is here.