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UAE denies visa to Israeli tennis player

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  • NEW: Shahar Peer, female Israeli tennis player, says she's "very, very disappointed"
  • United Arab Emirates refuses to grant a visa to Peer
  • Peer needed the visa to play in the Dubai Tennis Championships
  • World Tennis Association unhappy, says move runs counter to its policy
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- The United Arab Emirates has refused to grant a visa to a female Israeli tennis player, preventing her from competing in the Sony Ericsson World Tennis Association Tour in Dubai, the WTA said in a statement Sunday.

The UAE has refused to grant a visa allowing Shahar Peer to compete in Dubai.

The UAE has refused to grant a visa allowing Shahar Peer to compete in Dubai.

Shahar Peer would have been the first Israeli athlete to participate in a professional sporting event in the UAE, CNN Sports correspondent Pedro Pinto said.

The UAE has no diplomatic ties with Israel.

Peer told CNN on Sunday evening she was "very, very disappointed" to be denied access to the tournament.

"Any player that qualifies should attend, and I was prevented," she said from Israel. "I'm glad the WTA support me. A red line was crossed for every athlete in the world -- politics should be kept separate from sports."

The governing body of women's tennis said it was "deeply disappointed" that Peer was being denied entry to the country hosting the tournament, but it did not cancel the competition, which began Sunday.

The move runs counter to WTA policy, which says no player should be barred from competing in a tournament for which she has qualified.

Dubai could lose its membership in the WTA tour next year over the ban on Peer, according to WTA rules. That would mean professional players could compete only in exhibition matches in Dubai, the results of which would not count in pro rankings.

Government officials in Dubai have not responded to CNN's request to comment over their refusal to allow Peer to compete in the event.

"Ms. Peer has earned the right to play in the tournament, and it is regrettable that the UAE is denying her this right," said Larry Scott, chairman and chief executive of the tour. Video Watch Scott express disappointment »

"Following various consultations, the tour has decided to allow the tournament to continue to be played this week, pending further review by the tour's board of directors."

The patron of the Dubai Tennis Championships is Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Makhtoum. Two million dollars in prize money is on the line.

Al-Makhtoum told CNN in 2004 that Dubai would accept Israeli students to a school dedicated to students from the Middle East who are talented at sports.

In 2003, Dubai hosted World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings, which Israeli government officials attended. The Israeli flag -- among other member states' flags -- is still part of a globe monument in Dubai.

Peer, 21, is ranked 48th in the world among female tennis players. She was allowed to compete at the Doha tournament in Qatar last year, where she received a warm welcome, according to Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.

Qatar, another Gulf Arab state, froze diplomatic ties with Israel after Israel's military offensive in Gaza last month.

Peer downplayed the political undertones of her participation in last year's Doha tournament, telling Haaretz that she didn't come to Qatar "to help the politics of course." But she added that if her playing in the tournament "can help for peace or anything, I'd be really happy."

Scott said the tour will "review appropriate remedies for Ms. Peer" as well as "appropriate future actions with regard to the future of the Dubai tournament."

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Peer was advised Saturday by tournament and WTA officials of the denial of her visa while she was participating in a tournament in Pattaya, Thailand, according to a WTA statement.

The Dubai Tennis Championships runs through February 28.

CNN's Shira Medding in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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