Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Shahar Peer and the Politics of Protest

Greetings Tennis Maniacs,

Forgive me for wanting to keep it simple, but don't you guys agree that we should keep our tennis and politics separate? As much as I believe that sometimes protest is a necessary and potent form of obtaining justice, I also don't believe that people have the right to subject large gatherings to their political or philosophical leanings whenever they please.

Take yesterday's protests against Israeli player Shahar Peer in Auckland as an example.

Not only did the loud (drums and megaphones and chanting) and insensitive protest group of 8 to 10 people disrupt the experience of many a paying customer at the Auckland, New Zealand venue, it also prompted security officials to stop play and evacuate the building to properly analyze a left-behind handbag (bomb?!).

What, I wonder, is the point of creating an atmosphere of tension at an event that is supposed to be joyous? And aren't there better, less intrusive methods that might actually foster an environment of communication and healing? The sentiment may be legitimate for John Minto's group (named "Global Peace and Justice"), but the approach to conveying the message clearly is not.

At first it all seems legitimate, but when you consider the fact that nobody at the venue was there (press reports have it as 3,000 spectators and many complaints) to hear protests, you quickly realize the inanity and utter rudenesss of Minto's approach.

I'm not here to condemn what the guy or his group have in their hearts. I can't speak for that, nor would I ever dare to. And I don't want to comment on politics at all. I merely want to say that trying to humiliate or intimidate a player to serve a larger purpose is foul play at it's slimiest and most damaging. It's about manners, and in my humble opinion, manners should always have right-of-way over politics.

How dare you try to bully a girl into quitting the sport she loves to play in front of people who paid good money to see her perform? How dare you try to sabotage an innocent woman's livelehood based on your beliefs? Aren't there better ways to voice your opinions? Why don't you find your own venue, and if you can get 3,000 people to show up, tell them how you feel?

It can't be easy on Shahar Peer. I have tried to put myself in her shoes over the past few days, and it isn't pretty, let me tell you. She's just one person, a 22-year-old girl from Jerusalem. She doesn't want any part of the politics of the situation, she just wants play tennis. Yet she is unfairly targeted, and made to be a scapegoat solely on the whims people who have no interest in her as a human being.

"I don't think there is a place for politics in sport," said Peer. "It's a shame that someone thinks that it is my fault that there are problems in the world."

The group sent Peer a letter asking her to withdraw as a "demonstration of your commitment to peace," and promised to protest if she did not.

Call me dense, but I don't see how it would be a "demonstration of a commitment to peace" if Peer withdrew. She is in the tournament to compete with players from all around the globe, competing in a sport that exemplifies the essence of globalism (call it global warmth if you will) - it's more important for her to be in the tournament for peace than it is for her to quit it based on threats.

My point here is that there is a time and place for people with passion to get their message out. If it is peace you want then it is peace you should promote. Shahar Peer has earned the right to compete with the best women in the world on the grandest stages of tennis. There are standards in the world of tennis, just as there are in other worlds.

By attempting to sabotage these standards and create a biased version of them, "Global Peace and Justice" has become it's own worst enemy.

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