Protest target's opponent upset at distraction

Police arrest a Pro Palestine demonstrator during Shahar Peer's 2nd round match today. Photo / NZPA
Police arrest a Pro Palestine demonstrator during Shahar Peer's 2nd round match today. Photo / NZPA

Israeli Shahar Peer was the target, but it was her tennis opponent who ended up struggling with a small but noisy protest outside the ASB Classic in Auckland today.

Slovakian Magdelena Rybarikova, who looked uncomfortable throughout a 6-1 6-0 defeat, believed the second-round match should have been postponed or moved to a different court.

"I have to say it was tough to play during the protest," she said.

"I lost the first set because I was not concentrating. I was thinking about that and not my tennis."

While police dispersed the 10 or so demonstrators during an extended break between the first and second sets, Rybarikova couldn't lift her performance.

The 21-year-old world No 44 said she had not faced a similar situation anywhere else in the world, although she attributed no blame to Peer.

One person was arrested for disorderly behaviour when the demonstration was broken up.

During the opening set, the protesters, who are against Israel's policies towards Palestine and have called for Peer's withdrawal from the WTA Tour event, could be clearly heard on the outside court.

Their slogans, shouted with the help of a loud hailer and accompanied by drums, included "blood, blood on your hands", "freedom for Palestine", "go home, Shahar".

The two groups involved, Global Peace and Justice Auckland and Palestine Human Rights Campaign Auckland, organised a similar action yesterday, but the noise level was increased significantly today.

Peer described the loudness of the chanting as "really, really bad", but the world No 30 said it also motivated her.

"Like yesterday, when I was hearing that, it made me play better to prove I can also play with the noise."

Peer repeated her view that she didn't believe politics should come into sport.

"I also want peace in the world," she said.

"But I don't think this is the place for this protest."

Peer, 22, is making her fourth appearance in the Classic and was first subjected to a protest last year, but that lasted just part way through her opening match.

She said she had not been targeted anywhere else in the world.

Tournament director Brenda Perry said the prospect of a repeat protest tomorrow would have no bearing on how the matches would be scheduled.

All quarter-finals will be on centre court and Perry said the order of play would be determined by public interest and television considerations.

She described the protest issue as not a significant one for organisers.

"It's something we have to deal with, but I don't see it as major."

- NZPA

- NZ Herald

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