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Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein: Azerbaijan taking fantastic steps combining modernity with sports

Share on Facebook December 13, 2014, Reporter : Trend, Reader : 401

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Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec. 13

By Elchin Mehdiyev - Trend:

Trend Agency's interview with the president of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the Princess of Jordan, Her Royal Highness Haya Bint Al Hussein

- Your Highness, how do you assess the holding of the annual General Assembly of the International Equestrian Federation in Baku?

- For us, it is a great honor to be in Baku. Azerbaijan is becoming a very big up and coming name in the world, and in sports, especially. You have an enormous support for sports from President Ilham Aliyev and the government. I very strongly believe that sports is the way for young people and people of the world to come together and overcome problems, to celebrate humanity. So, with all the progress that Azerbaijan is making, great moves towards modernity coupled with sports - is a fantastic step. For us it is a huge honor to be here and have our meetings here. Many of the representatives are amazed by your city. Before, when they heard about Baku and about the meetings that will be held here in Azerbaijan, they had no idea. Your country is really the crossroads between cultures, religions, history and modernity. I hope that our meetings here will make many friends for Baku and Azerbaijan and will also leave many good memories, as well as progress for our federation.

- You have headed the federation since 2006 and throughout this period FEI achieved great success in the development of the equestrian sports in the world. Why did you decide to step down from the post of the FEI president?

- First of all, I made my decision to try and become the FEI president because I finished my career as a professional athlete and then I got married. At the time many people told me and my region, the Arab region, to try and fix problems of the young generation. Regarding FEI, I realized that it wasn't easy for me to fix the problems in the region when the federation itself had problems. I wanted the challenge, so I decided to become the president of the FEI. I put forward my ideas for change, for good governance, for federation's management in a fair and transparent way. I was younger, 31 years old, and there was nobody of my age in charge of international federations. One of the most important things I saw was that the generation before me managed the federation for many years, and they didn't have any time or term limit. So, for that reason, I said I will bring in my new ideas, and will stay for only eight years. Maybe in the future it will be better to extend this limit to nine or 12 years. I made a promise to the people who elected me as president, so I couldn't change it. Even when the federation asked me to stay it wasn't possible for me to change my promise. My time has come to leave, but I have many friends and I am sure that federation is in good shape and is ready to fight for its future.

- How do you assess your years of FEI presidency and what else is needed to be done for the popularization of equestrian sport in the world?

- I think any person who is ambitious will always strive for more. I wish I did better every day. I tried my best every day and my father taught me that I can only do my best. If the days had 30 hours instead of 24, maybe I could've achieved more. Now, I am sure the federation has all the tools it needs for the future, but the point is that they need to use these tools properly. They always need to feel the urgency, real sense of urgency that you have to run, to fight for achieving more. It is not like you have to compete against the other people, but you have to try to be the best every day. It is important to keep moving. The future, I think, is very bright. Previously we had many issues, many problems that stopped the growth of this sport, like quarantine of horses, transportation problems. We couldn't move horses between the countries easily. Now, these problems are solved. I believe this sport will continue to grow. The people who are in charge need to always try and fight for the best, I think. This is up to them.

- You got involved with the equestrian sport from the age of three. At 13 you began to represent Jordan in international competitions and became the first Arab female to win a medal in the Pan-Arab Equestrian Games in 1992. In 1996 you received an award from the Spanish Equestrian Federation as the Equestrian Personality of the Year. You also competed in equestrian events at the 2000 Games in Sydney. Moreover, you were included in the "Legendary women of our time" list by the Femmes Mythiques Association. Why do you love the equestrian sport so much?

- I was three years old when my mother died, and that changed me. I was a happy child and then I became quiet. I went into myself and my father thought at the time that the best thing for my birthday would be a young horse. I received it on my 6th birthday. The horse was just born and its mother just died. It needed help, someone to take care of her, look after her. So my father gave me this horse because it had the same experience as I did. So, I was able to look after it. I started to want to live again and wanted to be happy. From that moment, horses have always been helping me. When I don't know what to say, the only thing I have to do is to ride a horse, and it become easy for me to express what I feel. The same thing happened to me during my presidency at the FEI. When times got tough, I only had to ride a horse and that would help me to understand who I am, what my philosophy is, how my father put me up and so on. Horses have been like my guide through life and they are my companions when I am confused, lost, or when I don't know where to go, or if I have a question. The same thing was inside the federation - it was an experience. Horses helped me to understand where I was and where I needed to go. This would be the same for many young people now, this is the gift that the horses give.

- Who were your mentors on the way to victories?

- I lost my parents at early age, my mother at 3 years old, and my father at 24, and I always looked up to them. For me, it was not so much a situation to have a mentor, but more a situation where I felt I should continue the life they gave me. They loved horses, they loved nature, people, and they loved doing the best for people. Their example was always in front of me.

- In one of the interviews you said that you always preferred show jumping to other types of equestrian sports due to the challenges it sets before athletes. Has your opinion changed?

- No, I don't think so. As the FEI president, I don't have preference for disciplines, but in my life I am qualified and I found my voice, my career, my way to express myself. I was a competitor in show jumping. So this is the value that I bring to this family, and this is who I am, not what I prefer. But I love all sports and I can see the values they give to society. Each of the disciplines we have - riding, endurance, walking, show jumping, etc - each has its own art form and special philosophy. As for me personally - I am a show jumper, that's all I can say.

- What advice would you give to athletes to achieve success like you did?

- Times have changed since my carrier started. And in many ways I think it was easier for me when I started because back then sport was less commercial, it was less difficult for young athletes to come in. Today there are more people competing for fewer places, so now it is different. You have to be very professional and very good to reach high level. To young athletes I can say this: it is not about the end result, it's about the challenge. You always have to have a goal in front of you and the goal should always be higher than you think you can achieve. It should be further than you think you can go and more difficult than you think you can do. When it is like that, you will come out as a better person, even if you fail to reach the goal. So I think that having a high goal and doing your best may not lead you to where you thought you would get, but you will end up having better life, because you challenge yourself and you overcome your own fears. It is a journey and I think that it's worthwhile of every human being.

- Do your children like equestrian sports?

- My daughter loves horses, and my son too. Daughter just turned seven years old last week and my son is two years old. Daughter loves horses, but also nature, other animals, basketball, swimming, running, cycling. I am not pushing her towards horses. For me it is important that both my children love sports. They're always outside and they understand that a human being is supposed to be physically active, people shouldn't sit still all day. I think it is important that they spend two-three hours a day moving, enjoying fresh air and this has become a lifestyle for them. That's enough for me, but I don't push them towards horses. As for my son, I think he likes cars better.

- You lost your mother very early. Obviously it was very difficult because a lot of girls remain close to their mothers. What advice did your father give You?

- When my mother died, a lot of people put pressure on me, to be more like her. As a young person, when you lose your parents and then you try to always be like them and it is difficult. When you lose a parent, you start seeing them as perfect human beings and nothing you do is ever good enough, so I think it is important for children to have a father like mine, who used to say to me that my mother would've loved me the way I am. He told me to always be myself, follow my own dreams, to keep my face, to be kind to other people and respect them, so that when you lose a parent, that parent would be proud of you. My father taught me to stick to those values and that my mother would've loved me that way.

- Many people wonder what is it like to be a princess in the 21st century?

- To be a member of the royal family is an institution, a responsibility. In many ways, members of royal families were the people who were born in privileged positions and it is important for such person to retain the values passed through generations. Such person should represent hope to other people, behave in a respectful way, try to do the best possible to make other people smile and take away their pain. Sometimes today such person is confused with a celebrity, but I think it is a very different life. It's a responsibility. All the best we have in our lives is also the reason to try to give the same to other people.

- You do much to encourage the development of health care, education, physical education and sports among young people in the Arab and Muslim world. You are a UN messenger of peace. Please share your future plans with us.

- I don't have any further big plans after the FEI presidency. After you finish a big job like this one, people expect you to give an exciting answer on what you're going to do next. I feel that now is the time to remain still and peaceful inside and wait to see when you're called to your next job. One door closes when another one opens up. But when you are busy, thinking all the time and lots of people talk to you, sometimes you do not see an opportunity that is coming to you.

I have two lovely children at home, and I think the first thing I am going to do when the next FEI president is elected, is to go home to my children, spend time with them, be peaceful in my heart, do some sports, and be a good parent.

I want to do the best for people. Instinctively, I feel that probably the best thing for me to do would be humanitarian work. I am mostly interested in such problems as hunger and poverty. But ultimately, I need to spend some time at home with my children and then it will be clear. To put it simply - I don't know what I will do next. What I do know is that I've been lucky to serve as FEI president and be part of this family, and also be able to end my presidency here in Baku.

I had amazing experience throughout my eight years of presidency. Equestrian sport is very popular in Europe, and the rest of the world did not feel being the part of it. Over 8 years I've been fighting very hard as an Arab, as a Muslim, and as a person from a developing country, to bring the rest of the world towards this sport.

For me, to end my journey in Baku is really the crossroads. Azerbaijan itself is the crossroads between Islam and Christianity, between East and West, between so many cultures. It's the right thing to do, it makes sense. I understand it, and I think everybody do too. I am enormously grateful to be here, it means a lot to me.

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