The noisy megaphone demonstrations mounted outside the Auckland Tennis Centre during the women's international ASB Classic this week have been a disgraceful act by a few protesters, a gross infringement on the rights of spectators and players, and an embarrassment to the city and the country.

Where else in the world would a young sportswoman face that sort of abuse for the actions of her country?

The protests might have been more understandable if Shahar Peer had been representing Israel - if, for example, she had been playing in a Davis Cup tie between Israel and New Zealand. But she was competing as a professional sportswoman, one largely accustomed to playing on a worldwide circuit without disturbance and to a standard that has earned her a career-high ranking of 15.

Only once before has her nationality created controversy. Last year, she was denied a visa to enter the United Arab Emirates for a lucrative tournament in Dubai, even though she had previously played in the Gulf states.

The UAE's action followed protests in Auckland, which centred on the concurrent Israeli incursion into Gaza. At least there was a semblance of meaning to it. The UAE has no diplomatic ties with Israel, and its ruling families donate millions of dollars to Palestinian causes annually.

Nonetheless, the UAE quickly changed its tune after a relatively stern response from the Women's Tennis Association, including the levying of a fine against the tournament and a public ultimatum about the consequences of further visa denials.

There was no problem when another Israeli, Andy Ram, wanted to play in the men's event in Dubai. He was admitted "in line with the UAE's commitment to a policy of permitting any individual to take part in international sports, cultural and economic events or activities being held in the country". That, however, was not enough to stop leading American player and defending champion Andy Roddick from withdrawing from the Dubai tournament citing the visa controversy.

Seen from such an international perspective, the Auckland protests can only be viewed as the work of misguided zealots. From the start, the protesters should have been allowed to make their point and then been moved on.

Shahar Peer, her fellow players and spectators also have their rights. This has sometimes been overlooked in the wake of the protests that so disrupted the 1981 Springbok tour. As it was, a diffident police reaction emboldened the protesters. Finally, on Thursday, after three warnings, more decisive action was taken. Arrests were made and loud-hailers confiscated.

The irony was, of course, that Shahar Peer seemed to thrive on being the subject of such protest, even while admitting it was difficult "emotionally" to listen to the chanting. She demonstrated a temperament and fortitude that her distracted opponents were unable to match. On that level, as on so many others, the protesters scored a spectacular own-goal.

The UAE has already told Shahar Peer that she will be welcome to play in Dubai this year. She will spend the next 12 months playing in locations around the globe that make nothing of the fact that she is an Israeli. Her gutsy response to the protests here will ensure she receives a warm welcome if she returns to Auckland for a fifth time, even from those who oppose or harbour doubts about the policies of the Israeli Government. The police should play their part in that by responding firmly but fairly to any protests.