Sport and Politics

UAE Denies Refusing to Let Israel Soccer Star Enter Country

The UAE and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations and Israeli passport holders are prohibited from entering the Gulf country.

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have denied that a Dutch soccer club’s request for a visa for an Israeli player was turned down prior to a visit to the Gulf state, according to a report coming out of the Persian Gulf.

Vitesse Arnhem, currently second in the Dutch professional soccer league, claimed that it had been told by the UAE Foreign Ministry that defender Dan Mori would not be permitted to attend a mid-season trip to Abu Dhabi.

The UAE and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations and Israeli passport holders are prohibited from entering the Gulf country.

Vitesse is in the UAE for a training camp and to play exhibition matches against two German sides. A spokesperson for the team claimed that they had initially been told that Mori would be allowed to enter the country as he was an athlete, before claiming that this decision had been reversed.

However, a statement on the website of the UAE embassy in The Hague claimed otherwise. “The embassy has followed - with interest - in the media the issue of the Dutch soccer team visit to the UAE,” it read.

“The embassy would like to categorically confirm that there was no application or request made to us for this visit.”

There is only one recent precedent of Israeli athletes being permitted to enter a Gulf country. Last October, swimmers from the country were allowed to compete in the Swimming World Cup in Qatar, although images of the Israeli flag were omitted.

The InsideWorldFootball website, meanwhile, reported that Dutch politicians have nevertheless criticized the team for travelling to the UAE without him.

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

“Vitesse should not have gone to UAE as a protest against the refusal of Mori,” said Wilders.

And Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem added: “Vitesse should have said in principle that ‘this is our team and you must accept all of us or we will not travel’. “
However, Vitesse spokeswoman Esther 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.”

This is not the first time that the UAE has denied Israeli entry. Last year, English Premier League side Swansea City reportedly were told than an Israeli player, Itay Shechter, could not go to Dubai for training while in 2009, Shahar Peer was denied entry for the Dubai Tennis Championship.

There is only one recent precedent of Israeli athletes being permitted to enter a Gulf country. Last October, swimmers from the country were allowed to compete in the Swimming World Cup in Qatar, although images of the Israeli flag were omitted.