Israeli tennis player's presence in Qatar infuriates citizens

Residents in Doha expressed their frustration over Dudi Sela's participation in the tournament

Dudi Sela of Israel reacts after playing a point against Spanish tennis player Fernando Verdasco during the first round of the ATP Qatar Open tennis competition in Doha on January 1, 2018.  / AFP PHOTO / KARIM JAAFAR

The participation of an Israeli tennis player in the Qatar Open has drawn harsh criticism from Qatari citizens, who say the athlete's presence in the Arab country was inappropriate amid rising tensions over Jerusalem's status.

US president Donald Trump's recent announcement recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has infuriated the Arab world and upset Western allies, who say it was a blow to Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts and risks sparking more violence in the region.

Residents in Doha expressed their frustration on social media over Dudi Sela's participation in the tournament, which was organised by the Association of Tennis Professionals.

His first every visit to Qatar did not last long as the tennis player was defeated in the first round last Monday. He took his first set against Spain’s Fernando Verdasco, but ultimately dropped to a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 defeat.

"The position of Qatar and the people of Qatar on Palestine is clear, we are demanding an official apology from the tennis association," Rashid Al Kuwari said on Twitter.

"Hosting the Zionists in sport tournaments is a norm, however, this is unacceptable as it contradicts our principles! We should be able to separate sports from politics, but when it comes to Israel, we reject this decision," Maryam Al Thani said on Twitter.

Majed Al Ansari, assistant professor of political sociology at Qatar University, said: "There are no sport, cultural or trade [relations] that allow for the acceptance of Zionist participation, this must stop immediately."

Meanwhile, despite harsh criticism from Qatari residents, Yonatan Gonen, the head of foreign ministry’s Arabic diplomacy department, expressed delight at Doha's decision.

“I am happy to see the participation of Israeli players in various tournaments in the Middle East," Mr Gonen said on Twitter.

In 2008, Shahar Peer became the first Israeli to play in a tennis event in Qatar.

On December 26, Saudi Arabia refused to grant Israeli players visas to participate in the World Chess Championships hosted by the kingdom, which had repeatedly expressed its rejections of the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.