Princess Haya has been called in to examine her husband’s equine operations in the wake of two seizures of illegal equine drugs by British government agencies.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
When a man instructs his wife to conduct an investigation into his affairs, there is bound to be a degree of scepticism among observers. That is just one of the difficulties facing Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum and Princess Haya, following the revelation in Monday’s Guardian that she has been called in to examine his equine operations in the wake of two seizures of illegal equine drugs by British government agencies.
But it should be said that there is no evidence of the inquiry being intended as window dressing. There was no formal announcement that it was to take place, after all, and it seems extremely unlikely that any findings will be published.
The tone that has been struck so far is one of determination that such embarrassments to Sheikh Mohammed should cease. Princess Haya’s spokesman, revealing the investigation, said: “Nobody seems to know in the organisation who is buying what [veterinary medicines] or where. That’s one of the reforms that they want in place. We’re trying to find out what happened, why it happened and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
In any case, Princess Haya’s qualifications for the task are hard to fault, beyond the possible quibble of her being married to the subject. She has served as president of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) since 2006, earning widespread admiration for her abilities and drive, while generating sufficient controversy to ensure that she was challenged by two rivals when seeking re-election in 2010.
That was an unprecedented situation for a sitting FEI president, who have generally had something of the figurehead about them; past incumbents include Prince Philip, Princess Anne and a Spanish infanta. Princess Haya won her battle decisively, garnering 72% of the vote, yet she will step down next year at the end of her second term, despite much expectation that the FEI’s statutes would be changed to allow her a third.
She will be missed, among other reasons, for her ability to raise enormous sums in sponsorship for previously ailing horsey sports, an ability that almost no successor could hope to match. But she outraged some with what has been described as an authoritarian approach and eventually had to backtrack over her 2009 proposal that limited levels of the anti-inflammatory Bute be allowed. The previous year, she incensed Michael Etherington-Smith, one of the world’s top designers of cross-country courses, by peremptorily ordering a change to one of his fences at a Hong Kong competition.
Revealing her decision to step down last week, she said it was “essential to ensure fresh thinking and avoid a sense of entitlement within the leadership”. She had herself introduced a two-term limit for presidents at the start of her tenure.
Her announcement followed allegations that she was beset by a conflict of interest in attempting to reduce the incidence of doping in endurance racing in the Middle East. That conflict was said to arise from the fact that so many doping cases examined by the FEI have involved horses from Dubai, where Sheikh Mohammed is ruler.
One specialist reporter asserts a Maktoum family link to 24 of 161 doping cases emanating from endurance racing that have been heard by the FEI tribunal since 2005. That tally includes horses who are merely based at stables owned by Maktoum family members and was therefore described as “a misleading statistic” by an FEI spokesperson, who said its rules hold the rider responsible in the first instance, while allowing for others such as trainers to be sanctioned.
Sheikh Mohammed was banned from endurance racing, a separate sport to the thoroughbred racing with which British fans are familiar, for six months in 2009, after a horse he rode tested positive for a steroid. Princess Haya stood herself down from the disciplinary process on that occasion.
She will conduct her new inquiry in a private capacity and it is thought unlikely that the two drugs seizures will result in any formal action by the FEI itself. In any event, no action will be taken until the conclusion of investigations by Britain’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate, a branch of Defra.
“Doping is always going to be a sensitive, complex and difficult issue,” the Princess said in a 2010 interview as she sought re-election. “So many opinions exist about what constitutes doping and what constitutes medication.”
That concern was recently echoed in the defensive words of Jaume Punti Dachs, an endurance trainer based at the Newmarket farm owned by Sheikh Mohammed where one of the drugs seizures took place. “These are all substances that you can buy in the UK, under a different trade name, and are standard [in the] medicine cabinet in any stables,” he said. “I know that these medicines are lawfully and legally used in the UK.
“However, the make/labels of the veterinary medicines in this case may be slightly different as they were purchased by me outside the UK and the authorities know that. They explained to me after their visit how to source the same medicines.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010