*** This article was originally written in Hebrew and can be found here. It has been translated and adapted (with permission from the author) by Israel Tennis Results. The ITR team would also like to acknowledge the contribution of Let, Second Serve to this post.
3 years ago the tennis world was stirred when Shahar Peer did not receive a visa from the Dubai emirate in order to play in the WTA Premier event held there every year - despite having the required ranking for a main draw slot.
The WTA tour fined the tournament, Peer was compensated and leading tennis players like Venus Williams and Andy Roddick publicly protested the controversial decision. Roddick even withdrew from the Men's event that year.
Now, politics are mixed with sports and athletes are getting hurt yet again, even though this time a top player is not involved but a 16.5 year-old Israeli Fed Cup player, Valeria Patiuk.
For the past 3 months, Patiuk has been trying to receive an entry visa for Venezuela in order to compete in a G1 Juniors tournament. However, the South-American country refuses to issue Patiuk a visa and in doing so, prevents her from competing in the prestigious event which offers plenty of ranking points.
Patiuk was slated to be the 3rd seed in this high-level event, the highest category of events after Junior slams. Success there could have helped her climb up the junior rankings and thus secure main draw spots in all slam-level events.
Patiuk in action. Credit: Israel Tennis Centers
Though usually based in Ramat HaSharon tennis center, Patiuk is currently in Costa Rica with her coach Assaf Yamin - attending a similar G1 event (where she is seeded 7th and currently made the quarter-final round). The two have been exchanging dozens of e-mails with all the relevant officials for the last 3 months.
Lately Patiuk visited the Venezuelan embassy in Costa Rica, where she submitted an official invitation letter from the Venezuelan tennis association. However, all of the efforts were to no avail as no reply was ever sent from the embassy.
Patiuk stated, "It is sad for me that I am not able to compete in such an important tournament due to political reasons. The main purpose of sports is to bring athletes together without regard to religion, race or gender and I am deeply sorrowed that I am denied from playing because of my Israeli nationality".
Yamin (Patiuk's coach) described the development of events "We tried to get the visa while being in Israel but we were told to do it through a third country due to the termination of international relations between Venezuela and Israel. We arrived at the Venezuelan embassy in Costa Rica with all the relevant papers we were told to bring in advance - certificates from the police, bank account verifications, letters from the Israeli tennis association, from the Venezuelan tennis association, from the ITF and from the tournament director".
Yamin added that "Due to the lack of time, we asked the Venezuelan tennis association to contact the embassy in Costa Rica in order to hasten the proceedings so the visa could be issued on time. A tournament official contacted the embassy but when we got there, they were waiting for us with ridiculous replies and didn't even bother to look at all the documents we prepared for them. Suddenly they told us we could only apply for a visa in Israel, even though they have no diplomatic delegation or contingent there".
"What astounds me is that I know of many Israelis who receive visas to Venezuela through a third country but because this is an official sports delegation they're making it difficult for us. Unfortunately, the ITF is not putting enough pressure on them because if you sanction an international tournament in Venezuela, the host country should make sure that every tennis player can compete there without prejudice".
(end of original article)
It seems as if all that has been said by Valeria Patiuk really is the essence and moral of the story - That sports in general and tennis in particular are supposed to bridge gaps and dissolve boundaries, not the other way around.
It is a rueful day for the international tennis community when young athletes and their dreams are used as pawns by politicians in order to make some distorted political gain.
It becomes even worse when a strong governing body like the ITF allows this to transpire right under its nose. You'd expect the ITF to put its full weight and influence behind one of its members.
John Stuart Mill once said that "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing".
Well, there's something definitely rotten in the State of Venezuela, and no one seems to be doing anything about it.
I'll leave you with one last piece of information - with all that took place in Dubai in 2009 and all that followed - in 2012 the tournament organizers made an almost 180 degree turn in their attitude towards Shahar Peer, offering her a WC to the main draw so she didn't have to play the qualification round due to her ranking. Dubai's tournament director even had some nice things to say about Peer. This only comes to show that things can be done differently.
Your move, Venezuela. Your move, ITF.
Patiuk with local kids in Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Israel Tennis Centers