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Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem criticized after UAE bans Israeli player

By Leone Lakhani, CNN
updated 10:07 AM EST, Tue January 7, 2014
Israeli footballer Dan Mori had urged Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem to go ahead with the UAE trip.
Israeli footballer Dan Mori had urged Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem to go ahead with the UAE trip.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vitesse Arnhem under pressure after its Israeli defender was not allowed entry to the UAE
  • Dutch club was told just a day before travelling to UAE that Dan Mori could not enter
  • UAE does not recognize Israel
  • Dutch club says it "had obligations" to the teams they were playing

(CNN) -- A Dutch football club is facing criticism for playing in the United Arab Emirates, despite being told its Israeli defender would not be allowed in the country.

Vitesse Arnhem, second in the Dutch league, is in Abu Dhabi for training and matches with two German teams during its mid-season break.

The team's spokeswoman Esther Bal says the team was told just one day before the trip that defender Dan Mori could not enter the UAE.

Like most Arab countries, the UAE does not recognize Israel, and its immigration policies stipulate that Israeli citizens will be refused admission.

Still, Bal says planning for the trip began about six weeks ago and the team had been assured on the phone repeatedly that the 25-year-old Mori would be allowed to enter because he was an athlete.

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No officials in the UAE could be reached for immediate comment.

Esther Voet, director of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, told CNN "Vitesse should have had the team spirit not to go without Mori."

Over the weekend, two Dutch politicians also criticized the team for travelling to the UAE.

Geert Wilders, leader of the rightist Party for Freedom, called the team "cowardly" on his Twitter account.

"Vitesse did not have to go to the UAE to protest the refusal to let Mori in."

However, Bal told CNN, "We're a football club. We want to stay away from politics," adding that Mori himself, encouraged Vitesse to go ahead without him, "putting the team's interests first."

According to Bal, Vitesse was unable to pull out of the trip as would have affected the other teams.

"We were under pressure. We had obligations with the teams we're playing," said Bal.

Vitesse is playing German Bundesliga clubs Wolsfburg and Hamburg this week, before heading back to The Netherlands on Saturday.

On its return, Bal says the team will contact world governing body FIFA to evaluate the situation.

This is not the first time the UAE has come under pressure for stopping Israeli athletes from entering.

Last year, the English Premier League team, Swansea City, was told its Israeli player, Itay Shechter, could not go to Dubai for training. The club considered canceling their mid-season camp.

Israeli athletes have been allowed to attend international sporting events in the region, however. In October, Israeli contestants participated in the Swimming World Cup in Qatar, but images of the Israeli flag were omitted from parts of the competition.

In 2009, Shahar Peer was denied entry into the UAE for the Dubai Tennis Championship, but played in subsequent tournaments.

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