The fallout from Peer's rejection, partner swapping and Bill Maher
The UAE denied Israel's Shahar Peer a visa on account of her nationality
One suspects that this flap has serious consequences for Larry Scott's Roadmap
Anyone think Amelie Mauresmo's too rational for her own good?
The UAE denies Shahar Peer, an Israeli, a visa to play in a joint WTA/ATP tournament, when she was placed in the main draw. What does this mean for the future of tennis in this region? What is the appropriate response for the WTA and the other players? There can be little tolerance for this kind of behavior, right?
Unquestionably this was the hot topic in Mailbag-land this week. The UAE denied Israel's Shahar Peer a visa on account of her nationality. Thus a player who otherwise qualified, was prevented from competing in a WTA event, a wildly lucrative one at that. The WTA released a statement expressing "deep disappointment" but -- a classic case of actions speaking louder than words -- the show went on. With Peer left back in Israel.
I don't envy Larry Scott and his minions here. Particularly in this economic climate, it takes real courage to stand on principle and cancel a $2 million event (and that's before appearance fees), especially when it's tied to one of your major sponsors. No doubt, anticipating backlash, the UAE waited until this weekend to deny Peer's visa. By that time, the rest of the field had flown in from all over the world. Imagine calling the players -- and their agents -- and explaining that they all have to turn around and come home empty-pocketed (and return appearance fee money) because one of their colleagues was having a visa issue.
Nevertheless there's something terribly disingenuous about the WTA's outrage here. When the Tour allowed itself to be bought by oil money several years ago, the risks were abundantly clear. Hell, years ago, we at the mailbag discussed the likelihood of this exact scenario.
Now that it's happened, you can express "disappointment" but you can hardly claim surprise. The notion a tournament shouldn't be held captive to the action of the government doesn't hold up here either, not when patrons of the event are the vice president and prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai.
Regardless of how this is spun, this is deeply embarrassing for the Tour. An organization that trades on social progress, that can hardly unveil a new logo without invoking Billie Jean and "a legacy of pioneering," gave into bigotry. At a bare minimum the WTA needs to make this point unmistakably clear for the future: "We all play; or no one plays. Petrodollars or no petrodollars."
Some other talking points for next week:
1) Tennis Channel has refused to broadcast this week's matches from Dubai. Bravo. But anyone else surprised that not a single player pulled out in solidarity with Peer?
2) There's an upcoming ATP event in Dubai. Any word on the status of the Israeli doubles players? Between this and the Stanford financial debacle: Adam Helfant, welcome to tennis.
3) What do the other sponsors (Sony Ericsson, Barclays) think about this mess?
4) One suspects that this flap has serious consequences for Scott's Roadmap and the mandatory events for top players. If I'm a player's agent I'm thinking, "Let me make sure I have this right: my client gets fined if she doesn't play where and when you tell her to; but when tournaments, obligated to accept eligible players, flout the rules, there's lots of tough talk but, as yet, no real consequence?"
5) This has deep -- and unfortunate -- financial consequences for tennis. A few months ago, there was a sense that the oil-rich Middle East was tennis' great hedge against the global financial meltdown. The U.S., Europe and Asia might be flailing, but oil currency remained a monopoly. No longer the case.
With respect to your proposed canned acceptance speech for future tournament winners to use at the trophy presentations. Is it just me, or does anyone else support banning the use of the word "amazing" when a player describes how they feel after a big win? I think it would be amazing if they could just stop!
Again, no one is blaming the players here. As we discussed with Serena, the entire ritual puts the players in an incredibly awkward situation. There are a finite number of things they can say -- not exactly the time to express their thoughts on the stimulus package or their disdain for the bastardization of the term "tapas," or the FDA's lax standards on nutritional supplements. So they serve up a few awkward clichés, hope to heck they don't forget anyone (especially not the Hollywood foreign press) and then run offstage.
And you think it's bad here: in France the crowds are so disdainful of corporate influences that corrupt the occasion, they boo and whistle the players when they mention sponsors. At least this was the case in the BNP Paribas suite.
Aw, isn't that cute. A 3-year-old praying to God that Federer will win and thus, by extension, praying to God that a host of other people who he doesn't even know will be unsuccessful. Such a beautiful gesture.
Who knew Bill Maher even liked liked tennis? To counter that cynicism here's Grainne of Aberdeen, U.K.: "The story of the little boy last week praying for Federer really tickled me. I am a devoted Fed fan and for the longest time my little boy didn't realize the sport was called tennis. He thought it was called 'Rogering' -- which has an altogether different meaning in this neck of the woods!"
You can be counted on to be the voice of reason during times of heightened emotion, but I sense in your words some discomfort with Roger's post-match "episode" at the Australian Open. It's an understandable reaction: you're a straight, male WASP, and we're all limited to one degree or other by our social conditioning. But I just wanted to go on record saying that Roger's sensitivity (both in loss and victory) is one of the main reasons I'm his proud fan. He's a straight guy comfortable with having feelings and that makes him more unique and special in my eyes than any of his titles.
I'll cop to being straight and male but draw the line there. I have no discomfort. I agree that there was something poignant and endearing about seeing Federer -- never mind a "straight guy;" a towering figure in his sport -- driven to tears by defeat. At the same time, surely you agree that there was something remarkable about that tableau. You have Athlete A lose an emotionally charged match to his rival and then simply break down, sobbing to the point that he is unable to speak. Then Athlete B consoles him, inflating his confidence by telling him he's still destined for more greatness.