At age 13, Princess Haya of Jordan was the first woman to represent her country in competitive horse-jumping, and she went on to a career that included the Sydney Olympics in 2000. And the Oxford-educated Princess remains passionate about the power of sports. Sport is good for individuals and societies alike, she tells Metro in an exclusive interview.
The Olympics are approaching. You often say that sports empower women. How?
For women sport the surest way to achieve pride in their own communities and to be able to express themselves on an individual basis. And, through sports they generate pride and support among their communities and their own families that they might otherwise not have. Many people talk about achieving change in women's status, but sport teaches values such as tolerance, team spirit, solidarity, fair play - all of those things that break up stereotypes and build up self-confidence. The changes that I've seen happen for women in communities have been when they've been allowed to really generate pride and to represent their communities in raising the flag for either for their families, their villages, cities and countries. So, sport does empower women in a way that nothing else can because it gives them a vehicle to express themselves.
Female competitive sport is booming in the Middle East. Do you see that as a natural development?
I'm very proud and I do see it as a natural development. I feel that governments are realizing the fact that sport is one of the most perfect tools for social development, for teaching social responsibility, for producing a community that has pride in what it does, and for giving women a chance to develop. In the areas I'm active in outside of the FEI, such as humanitarian work, we try to prove the place of women in the community and through facts and figures show their value to decision-makers so that they make women a top priority. Now we're actually seeing governments, in the Middle East and around the world, invest so much in women's sports, which is incredibly gratifying to me. I'm very, very proud of this and I totally believe it's the way forward both for the women as individuals, for the families that they will bring up in the world and for the future of our region. This is a healthier way forward. This will bring richness to women's lives that no money can buy. Sport is one of the factors that help transform the Middle East.
You're patron of Retraining of Racehorses. If they're not retrained, what kind of life do these horses face?
Horses are like people. There's always a job that the horse is good at, but it might not necessarily be the job it has been bred for. Even if a horse has been bred as a racehorse, it may be more suitable for something else. One of the lovely things about being involved with Retraining of Racehorses is that we see so many fabulous racehorses that were bred for the track but aren't suitable for racing - perhaps they're too big, too late in their development, or not fast enough - are being retrained to see if they can compete in other sports. They all find loving homes in an area where they are strong. This a new relationship that started between the FEI and the racing industry that has evolved over the last five of six years. We have been able to find many more cross-disciplinary partnerships than ever before. The horses in Retraining for Racehorses are retrained for things like showjumping, showing, eventing and many other sports There's a group of experts who are coming up with very new and specific methods to determine where the horses are happiest and what jobs they are best at doing.
Your father, King Hussein of Jordan, lasted through plenty of tumult. Right now the Middle East is more tumultuous than usual, and Jordan is bearing the brunt of the burden from the conflict in Syria. Does that worry you?
I don't believe I am the person most qualified to answer this question, nor is it my place to do so. My father and my brother were and are both heads of state, and in my life I've found that when people who're not involved in politics like me make life-sweeping statements it often affects the people who are directly involved in the situation very badly. However, I'd say that the subject you ask about is impossible to take in isolation. This is a context and a region that have to be understood. There are very deep and intricate religious aspects and history that have to be looked at. It's not one or two countries in isolation. But I do know in my heart and I will always hold it true that my brother, like my father before him, is doing absolutely everything he can to make sure there's peace and stability for the people and the country he loves. I just pray as do all the people who come from my region that we have the bright future that our people deserve. From my own point of view, the little that I can do to help is work in the areas that I'm qualified to work in, specifically hunger, poverty and sports.
Which role do sports play in your own life?
Sports play a very big role in my life and that of my family. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed is a person who truly loves sports. He exercises all the time. Sport is a way of life for us. We don't say, "ok, we're going to go to the gym every single day". We find the time to ride. If my husband has a choice between going in a car or walk, he'll choose walking. It would be belittling it to say we do sports to cope with the pressures; for us it's a way to have a happy life and to live each day to its full. We are a family that needs to move and to be active. We love the sports community. We love the fact that when we compete we're normal people and what we achieve is our achievement alone. Yes, we continue to ride horses, but we also walk, play football, play volleyball, play tennis, swim. My children are the same as their father: if there's an opportunity to run, they'll run.
Will you be watching the Olympics?
I'll be there! I'll not only be watching it but I hope in my own humble way to be involved in helping the other members of the FEI team to produce an equestrian edition of the Olympic Games that's worthy of history.