Dubai's prejudices threaten its ambitions as modern world leaders in sport

Neil Trainis SHAHAR Peer is not a name most sports followers will instantly relate to but hers is a situation which has provided a timely reminder of the archaic attitudes endangering the world s aspiring modern epicenter of sport. There is, on many levels, much to ad

Neil Trainis

SHAHAR Peer is not a name most sports followers will instantly relate to but hers is a situation which has provided a timely reminder of the archaic attitudes endangering the world's aspiring modern epicenter of sport.

There is, on many levels, much to admire about Dubai, one of the seven emirates making up the Arab federation. The global recession has failed to penetrate the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula and its billionaire businessmen have lavished their vast wealth on a variety of high profile projects, notably Premier League football clubs.

There is an intrinsic ambition to be the focal point for the rest of the world in relation to technological advancement, tourism and, of course, sport, the one area which can encapsulate the extravagancies and ambitiousness of the Arab world as much as the awe-inspiring towers which adorn the Sheikh Zayed Road, the longest highway in the United Arab Emirates.

Sports City, a �2.8bn enterprise which, by the time of its completion in Dubai next year, will include the world hockey academy, the Butch Harmon school of golf, Manchester United's first purpose-built soccer school, a David Lloyd tennis academy and the ICC's global cricket academy, will symbolise a burning motivation to be innovative.

Onlookers differentiate in their opinion of Dubai. Some see it as an unobtainable millionaires and billionaires playground where only the ludicrously affluent mingle in scenes reminiscent of an F Scott Fitzgerald novel. Others regard Dubai as the complete opposite; a land of opportunity.

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So what did they make of the UAE's decision this week to deny Peer, a female Israeli tennis player ranked 48 in the world, a visa to play in an event in Dubai?

The reason, provided by organisers, for Peer's omission from the Dubai tournament, one of the most prestigious on the women's tour, was that they could not guarantee her safety in the wake of vociferous criticism in the region of Israel during the Gaza conflict.

Peer was certainly exposed to voluble protest from spectators angry at Israel's invasion of Gaza as she played in an event in Auckland, New Zealand in January and that take on events in the Middle East is prevalent in many countries.

There are many who hold the opposite view and cry injustice on behalf of Israel but whatever the stance, can any country justify banning an athlete from entering its borders on the basis of politics?

Apparently so. Dubai has history in this regard. It was, after all, not so long ago that West Ham United, holding a training camp there, left behind two of their players, Yossi Benayoun and Yaniv Katan, both Israelis.

More recently the Abu Dhabi United Group, upon their acquisition of Manchester City, desired the club play exhibition matches and hold training sessions in Abu Dhabi but among those not wanted there was Tal Ben Haim, their Israel international central defender.

Peer is, at least, in good company yet something sinister begins to creep through. Suddenly that utopian image of Dubai as a place of open-mindedness and opportunity melts away.

For a start, the UAE does not recognise Israel and therein lies the problem but that is a political issue, not a sporting one, and not only does it sit uncomfortably with the sporting paradigm Dubai seeks to promote, it erodes the new-found modernity it has attained.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) chief Executive, Larry Scott, has maintained that the governing body is mulling over what sanctions to take against Dubai and removing the tournament from the calendar in 2010 has been proposed.

That measure should be implemented instantly since WTA regulations state that no host country can deny a player the right to compete at any event on the tour for which she has qualified by ranking.

Dubai, that elaborately presented city promoting an attractive way of life to outsiders, should find no tolerance of its attitude towards Israel in other spheres too.

The Football Association, whose chairman Lord Triesman is Jewish, has taken a dim view on such discrimination but appears powerless to play its part in prompting a change in attitude.

Preventing Arab takeovers of English football clubs, which would not be countenanced by the Premier League in any case, would be seen as counter-discrimination and not the way forward for any tolerant society.

Yet there are other ways of hammering home the message that Dubai's position in relation to Israel and Israelis is unacceptable.

As part of a process of alienation, perhaps the International Cricket Council (ICC), whose headquarters have been in Dubai since 2005, could relocate back to London.

Maybe the likes of Ana Ivanovic, Elena Dementieva, Venus Williams and Dinara Safina, among a clutch of top tennis players currently in Dubai for the event who have expressed their support for Peer, could head for Dubai International Airport and catch the first flight home. Maybe then organisers might have a rethink about the perceived threat to Peer's safety.

And what of the World Club Cup, football's annual competition to decide the best club side on earth which this year is due to be played in the UAE for the first time?

If Liverpool were to win the Champions League they would, presumably, be told to leave Benayoun, the midfielder they acquired from West Ham, at Anfield. In that event could Fifa not take the event away from Abu Dhabi?

Might the F�d�ration Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) renege on its promise to include the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, scheduled for November, on the racing calendar in anticipation of any objection arising to the presence of an Israeli driver?

Dubai has achieved commercial and industrial progression but its continued development is jeopardised by an age-old, deeply embedded hatred. If it truly wants to be modern, that trait should be forever discarded.