Barclays stands firm over tennis star ban

The chief executive of Barclays Bank has responded to campaigners’ concerns about the company’s continuing sponsorship of a tennis tournament from which Israel’s top woman player was barred.

Retired stockbroker and Barclays shareholder Alan Diamond questioned John Varley in front of 1,100 people at Barclays’ annual general meeting last week.

The United Arab Emirates refused to grant a visa to Shahar Peer to compete in the event in February, prompting the withdrawal of support from the Wall Street Journal Europe and the cancellation of the Tennis Channel’s coverage.

Mr Diamond asked: “The board has had notice of my question but seems reluctant to reply. Can I please have your assurance that Barclays, or any subsidiary company, will cease to support and withdraw their sponsorship for any event, when or if the host nation decides to discriminate against a competitor on the grounds of gender, race, religion or colour?”

Mr Varley said he was aware of a petition organised by the campaigners and was sorry Ms Peer had not been allowed to play in the tournament. But he added that the bank could not interfere with a host country’s decision.

Mr Diamond said he had been “lucky” to have the opportunity to speak at the meeting and added: “I think they are genuinely sorry and are surprised about the attention the issue has received around the world. But we could not get it out of them why they did not stop the sponsorship.”

A Barclays spokesman said the bank remained “in active dialogue with all of the critical stakeholders associated with the tournament”.

Last updated: 10:26am, April 30 2009