Princess Haya Re-Elected President of FEI in Landslide

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Princess Haya after ee-election as president of the FEI. © 2010 FEI/William Tzeng
Princess Haya after ee-election as president of the FEI. © 2010 FEI/William Tzeng

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Princess Haya won a landslide victory for a second four-year term as President of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) at the organization’s General Assembly in Taipei Friday, promising she had learned from mistakes and would work to unify horse sports while leading a global development effort.

Haya won on the first ballot with 90 votes, easily surpassing the two-thirds majority required to avoid a runoff. Sven Holmberg of Sweden, the current 1st vice president, received 23 ballots, and Henk Rottinghuis of the Netherlands received only 11 ballots. There was one abstention in the secret electronic ballot.

With tears streaming down her cheeks after the vote was announced, Haya strode to the podium of the FEI General Assembly to thank delegates who had flown in from around the world for the annual meeting of the 133 member nations of the ultimate decision-making body of the organization that governs global horse sports.

Haya received a standing ovation as she returned to the stage.

“Thank you so much for your confidence and trust. I promise that I won’t let you down.” she said.

“I promise to unify this federation. I promise to work for you, the national federations, and constantly appreciate your needs and do everything I can to serve this sport we all love. I never really realized how many wonderful friends and supporters I have. This has been a really extraordinary year for me and I am truly humbled by what you have done for me.”

She named John McEwen of Great Britain, who was earlier re-elected as chair of the Veterinary Committee, to replaces Sven Holmberg as 1st vice president, and Pablo Mayorga of Argentina was elected 2nd vice president, replacing Chris Hodson of New Zealand.

Hanfried Haring of Germany was re-elected as chair of FEI Geographical Group II and Mauricio Manfredi of Brazil was elected as chair of Group VI.

The presidential election was only the second contested ballot in FEI history and the first in which an incumbent president has been challenged when seeking re-election. The campaign to head up the organization based in Lausanne, Switzerland, took on elements of mainstream political drives with the candidates actively seeking support at the recent World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. The North American Riders Group comprising top jumper riders publicly endorsed Rottinghuis.

The ease of Haya’s victory surprised observers who expected the election to go to a second round after Rottinghuis named U.S. Equestrian Federation President and Olympic gold medalist David O’Connor to be his nominee as 1st vice president. The 40 European national federations which had created their own regional organization over dissatisfaction with the FEI did not vote as a bloc, as expected, and thus a second round of balloting was not required.

The vote for Haya continues uninterrupted leadership of the FEI by a “royal”–mostly European and now Arab–since 1954, and comes at a time when the governing organization of the three Olympic equestrian disciplines of dressage. eventing and jumping and five other horse sports is struggling to globalize appeal and rid itself of the image of being “elitist.”

In seeking re-election, she repeatedly admitted mistakes in her first term but said she wanted a second chance to put into practice what she had learned from her experience.

FEI Presidential candidates Sven Holmberg, Henk Rottinghuis and Princess Haya Al Hussein
FEI Presidential candidates Sven Holmberg, Henk Rottinghuis and Princess Haya Al Hussein

The princess is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and wife of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.

Haya has been riding internationally since the age of 13. In 1992 she won the individual bronze medal in jumping at the Pan Arab Games and the following year was named Jordan’s athlete of the year. She competed at the Sydney 2000 Olympics and the 2002 World Equestrian Games at Jerez de la Frontera in Spain.

Haya became a member of the International Olympic Committee in 2007 and was this year appointed to the IOC International Relations Committee, an appointment that some of her supporters made clear in a meet-the-candidates session Thursday was important for equestrian sports remaining in the Olympics.

She is a member of the IOC Athletes’ and Culture and Olympic Education Commissions. She is the first Arab and first woman ever to become Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations World Food Program and in 2007 was appointed an UN Messenger of Peace.

Since 1954, the FEI leadership has come solely from “royal” families, starting with Prince Bernard of the Netherlands for 10 years, Britain’s Prince Philip for 22 years, his daughter, Princess Anne, for eight years, the Infanta Doña Pilar de Borbòn of Spain for 12 years and Princess Bint Al Hussein for the past four years.

Prior to that, the organization reflected its military roots with seven career officers running it from the time of its founding in 1921 to 1954, with a single “civilian,” an auto company executive, in charge during the years of World War II.

Haya has been an activist president, warning that equestrian sports in the Olympics were threatened by the behavior in some sports that came to a head at the 2008 Beijing Games with the disqualification of several horses for use of prohibited substances and the handling of dressage judging.

She dismissed the FEI Dressage Committee and set up a Task Force that recommended creation of a new committee that in turn is implementing changes in judging and other aspects of the sport.

Different approaches in the so-called Clean Sport campaign divided the FEI in 2009, but died down in 2010, especially as the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky found no positive drug tests in horses or humans.

Ignoring objections from most nations in what used to be the Super League, she ordered it enlarged from eight teams in eight competitions to a Top League with several more teams. The new format has proven unsuccessful and in 2011 is reverting to the original structure.

Substantial financial support for equestrian sports from Al Maktoum family-supported businesses made some national federations fearful that her defeat at the polls could see that spigot turned off.

Sven Holmberg has been chairman of the FEI Jumping Committee since 2005. He has been organizing national competitions since 1973 and a member of the Swedish Equestrian Federation for 15 years. He has been president of four FEI World Cup Jumping Finals. He was Sports Director at the inaugural FEI World Equestrian Games in Stockholm in 1990 and was chef d’equipe of Swedish dressage teams at two Olympics and two WEGs.

Henk Rottinghuis has been involved in equestrian sport for 45 years as a competitor and administrator. He competed in national dressage competitions for 11 years from 1970 and went on to work as a referee and assist in the organization of several international driving competitions, including the world championships in the Netherlands.

As a member of the Dutch Equestrian Federation from 1999 to 2004, he is credited with steering the organization through major organiational restructuring which brought 16 separate member groups under one umbrella as the Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation (KNHS). In 2003 he was elected Equestrian Sportsman of the Year for his services to the KNHS. In 2005 Rottinghuis initiated the largest ever one-day equestrian event in the Netherlands, with more than 700 horses taking part in a Royal Salute on the 25th Jubilee of Queen Beatrix.

The issue of elitism in equestrian sports has been raised frequently at this year’s General Assembly sessions, including during a discussion on the Olympics scheduled for 2012 and their equestrian legacy.

In a report on the equestrian venue in Greenwich Park, competition manager Tim Hadaway reported that as of now the Games are “on time and on budget.”

Riders and team officials will be housed in the Olympic village with all other athletes, while grooms will live in a four-star hotel just 300 yards (meters) from the stables that Hadaway said may be the best accommodations ever.

Reserve horses will be stabled at the competition venue.

The main dressage and jumping arena is being built for up to 22,000 spectators in the park that originally was a hunting preserve for Henry VIII. Grand stands will not be built on one side of the venue so as to provide an uninterrupted view toward the Queen’s House and the River Thames.

The majority of horses for the competition will be from continental Europe so will travel to Greenwich Park by road.

Horses from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia/New Zealand will most likely be flown into a continental airport such as Amsterdam and then transported by road to London, he said.

Trond Asmyr, FEI director of dressage, reported on changes in the sport, including the use of seven judges at Olympics, WEGs, World Cups and continental championships at Grand Prix level and use of supervisory panels that will have the power to correct technical mistakes and counting errors.

A proposal will also be made to allow exceptions to the rule requiring 10 meters between the competition arena and spectators as some venues are too small to meet the requirement.