February 16, 2009

Dubai Forces WTA to Decide Between Pursestrings and Principles

As was widely reported today, the United Arab Emirates have denied 48th ranked Shahar Peer, of Israel, a visa to participate in this week's Dubai Tennis Championships. The move to deny the Israeli entry to the Arab country, ostensibly due to the conflict in Gaza, caused an instant uproar leading the Tennis Channel to decide not to air the tournament. The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) is threatening to strip the UAE of the tournament, based on their own internal rules.

Clear cut, right? The UAE denied entry to a clearly qualified athlete just because of her national origin, therefore the WTA has to strip the tournament. There's just one little hitch - the purse for the tournament is $2,000,000.

Only four events this year (not counting the Grand Slams) have larger purses, and only four offer as much money. Most other events range from $220,000 to $700,000, with most offering the former.

Obviously, athletes have been used as international political pawns in the past. The Munich Massacre, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, and Rocky Balboa all come to mind. Modern international sports, however, are supposed to be about letting the best athletes in the world compete without regard for their nationalities. Otherwise, we'd just use BCS-style rankings and polls to determine which country's national champion is the best. Instead, we choose to let them prove themselves week in and week out in venues around the world.

On the other hand, the WTA is not immune to financial concerns, and neither are its players. The ladies on the tour are going to want that $2,000,000 replaced somehow. The Tennis Network made the WTA's decision a little easier, by blacking out television coverage, but still the league must measure the fallout against the payout.

We will soon find out whether the WTA's need for larger purses comes before their principles.

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