Sunday, April 12, 2009

FEI: Princess vows to solve horse doping issues

VEVEY, Switzerland — When Princess Haya of Jordan took over as president of equestrian's world governing body, she was tasked with fighting the sport's increasingly public doping problems.

Now that her own husband is at the center of the most recent doping case, her task has become a lot more difficult.

The princess is finding herself under increased scrutiny after Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, announced this week that a horse he owns and rides twice failed doping tests after endurance races that were sanctioned by his wife's organization — the International Equestrian Federation.

Addressing the situation to The Associated Press, Princess Haya said she fears that a "few individuals" who oppose "the increase in democracy and the fight against corruption in the FEI" will use the doping revelation to undermine her position.

"I have no doubt ... that they will use this case in any way they can to injure and damage the reputations of myself and my family," the princess said in an e-mail reply to the AP.

She did not specify which individuals she was referring to, but said she hoped the disciplinary case pending against Sheik Mohammed may end up strengthening the FEI's drive toward drug-free competitions.

"(The FEI's) own image is only in jeopardy if it does not act in a clear, transparent and timely fashion," she said.

The princess will take no part in deciding her husband's penalty, with a senior colleague assuming her presidential powers when the case is considered. She also informed the ethics panel at the International Olympic Committee, having been an IOC member since 2007.

It is a bitter twist for the former show jumping Olympian who was picked, in large part, to combat doping.

At an election three years ago, most of the 134 national members felt it needed change after three gold medalists at the 2004 Athens Games were stripped of their titles in doping cases.

"They were very specific in saying they didn't want a princess, they wanted a working president," Princess Haya told the AP in a recent interview.

She said equestrian had become "mediocre" within the Olympic movement, where it made its debut in 1912.

"They hadn't reinvented themselves as other sports had," she said. "I understand what the IOC wants from us — content, transparency, good governance, a clear stand on doping."

The Beijing Games magnified the problems, despite exciting medal contests. The IOC criticized judging standards in dressage, and six horses failed drug tests, resulting in their riders being suspended. One case, involving Norway's bronze medal in team jumping, is under appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"That has left an enormously bad taste among the general public but it's certainly not reflective of our family," Princess Haya said. "We have paid a very, very high price for actually trying to do the right thing."

At the FEI's assembly in Buenos Aires last November, she invited all members to contribute to a review of medication use and doping standards led by Arne Ljungqvist, the chairman of the IOC's medical commission. The Swedish doping expert will publish his report in the summer.

She also persuaded the FEI's dressage committee to resign. She said her leadership became "much stronger and more forceful than I would have liked."

In the interview, she said her resolve can be traced to her father — the late King Hussein of Jordan — who struck a deal with her during her 17-year show jumping career.

"My father made me promise him that it (her jumping) would amount to something," she said. "He said 'You can't just drop all the obligations you have to the country and follow a dream.'"

Princess Haya said she studied how equestrian was organized, and remembered her father's teaching that even in sport, peace is first achieved by politics.

Like King Hussein, Sheik Mohammed has put sport at the heart of Dubai's business model.

The 59-year-old sheik rode his own horse, Tahhan, in 120-kilometer (74.5-mile) endurance races at Bahrain in January and Dubai in February when it failed doping tests performed by his own staff. Both times the hypertension drug guanabenz was present. After the Bahrain race, a metabolite of the anabolic steroid stanozolol was found.

In a statement issued on his behalf Monday, Sheik Mohammed — also one of the world's foremost breeders and owners of thoroughbred race horses — accepted that he was legally responsible for the doping. He ordered an investigation of his stables and the findings shared with the FEI.

Princess Haya acknowledged that endurance race doping is a problem in the Middle East.

"The FEI has been struggling to deal with the number of doping cases," she said in her e-mail, adding that her husband could help change attitudes. "The effect will be felt more surely and more quickly than the FEI has been able to achieve to date."

King Hussein died in 1999, just 18 months before his daughter rode for Jordan at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and carried the country's flag at the opening ceremony.

Princess Haya says she felt "robbed" of his wisdom, though still determined to "amount to something."

"I can keep a promise to the person who was my whole world," she said. "That is why I am so earnest about it. I so want to do a good job." -AP
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