15 Oct 2012

Interview for CSI Zurich

Your Royal Highness, next January the CSI-W Zurich will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. It’s a tournament you have participated in several times during your active career. What memories do you associate with the CSI Zurich?

*Alongside your own memories of competing at the CSI Zurich, the following points could be highlighted:

- Ever since 1988, when the first event took place, the CSI Zurich has been a major highlight of the international Jumping calendar.
- Every year, the event attracts tens of thousands of spectators who flock to see the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping and the other competitions taking place within a very exciting show programme.
- Thanks to international television coverage, many more people around the world can watch the CSI Zurich (and many watch the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping on FEI TV too).
- Zurich will be marking its 25th anniversary as the FEI celebrates the 35th season of the FEI World Cup™ Jumping series.
- The Zurich 25th anniversary show in 2013 will be extremely exciting: everyone is looking forward to seeing a spectacular event.

Many visitors still remember 1998, when you were the head of a large delegation of women, men and different kinds of animals from Jordan. Your native country was presented in a beautiful and very impressive show.

From its beginning in 1988, show elements were a key element of the CSI Zurich. And with its enormous prize money the founders, Rolf and Urs Theiler, attracted a choice of the best show jumpers in the world. They were the first organisers to introduce the combination of horse sport on a top level, splendid show acts and an exhibition that spectators can explore during the breaks. Do you think of the Theiler brothers as visionaries?

*You may want to help the journalist with further details on the 1998 show. We can see from the detail on the CSI Zurich website that you were instrumental in making it possible for the organisers to create a show that highlighted the importance of horses in Arabian culture: http://www.mercedes-csi.ch/en-1998.phtml

Points to highlight on the Theiler brothers and CSI Zurich include the huge respect for the vision of the Theiler brothers and:

- their constant focus on the horse and making it possible for audiences to experience the wonderful relationships between humans and horses
- always new and exciting experiences at the CSI Zurich for spectators: huge focus on entertainment, and opening up the sport to new audiences, particularly in the corporate hospitality area, all of which is key for the future
- for the first time at a CSI the Theiler brothers have introduced the opportunity for children to ride supervised ponies in the main arena of the stadium in between competitions
- it is vital to make the sport accessible to all generations, and for the children to be able to see their heroes competing and then ride in the same arena is a magical way of encouraging the younger generation into our sport

Many other organisers subsequently used the CSI Zurich formula as a blueprint and are now very successful with the same concept. Do you think this formula, even after 25 years, is still attractive enough to take show jumping into a successful future?

Absolutely - the Theiler brothers are very gifted, they are creative thinkers and true visionaries. T

hey have a far-sighted view of the sport, which includes the need to engage new audiences and different generations, and to keep the excitement and fun in the sport. The show provides a real feast of entertainment for the spectators and the result is that they come back year after year, knowing that they will see top-class sport and lots of other exciting displays and attractions. The whole package is geared towards entertainment and all these elements are key to ensuring the continued growth of Jumping and all equestrian sports.

CSI Zurich is visited by over 35,000 spectators every year and this will continue to grow as it continues to be ranked as one of the leading international events in the world.

Since 2009 CSI Zurich is part of the FEI World Cup. Apart from this Indoor Series during the winter time, there are other series like the Nations Cup, the Global Champions Tour, the Riders tour in Germany, and lots of CSI events. In Switzerland alone we have with the CSI Basel, CSI-W Zurich, CSIO St. Gallen, CSI-W Geneva and now also with the CSI Lausanne as a station of the Global Champions Tour five tournaments of 5-star-level. Do you think show jumping has reached a ceiling in terms of the number of events?

Since 2008, the number of Jumping events around the world has grown by 39%.

Growth of the sport is important at all levels, to help athletes rise through the ranks and achieve their aspirations of competing at the elite level.

Great care is taken by the FEI to ensure a balanced calendar – making sure it does not get too busy in the interests of horse welfare, and also where possible avoiding coinciding dates for the big five-star events.

There will continue to be organised growth of Jumping, thanks to our National Federations, the support of organisers, equestrian specialists around the world and of course prestigious international sponsors including Rolex.

Furthermore there are the European championships, the World Equestrian Games und the Olympic Games. Each of these events attracts a lot of people. But there is still no series like Formula One or Grand Slam tennis tournaments, events that generate winners who are recognised by the people as hero figures.

The equestrian world has many heroes, from its athletes – both the riders and the horses –to the organisers, the visionaries in our sport and all those who dedicate themselves wholeheartedly and selflessly to equestrian sport.

One of our constant goals is to make heroes of our equestrian athletes and thanks to events like the recent London 2012 Olympic Games in Greenwich Park, which showcased our sport to huge television audiences around the world as well as to very knowledgeable and enthusiastic on-site spectators, our athletes are getting the recognition they deserve.

We need to take advantage of this new fan base and make sure that we harness all that enthusiasm, both to grow our spectator numbers and also the number of new riders coming into our sport.

With the help of our sponsors, by utilising the power of traditional and social media, and by inspiring audiences with new and exciting concepts for our sport we will continue to shine the spotlight on our human and equine athletes.

A kind of a series is the FEI Nations Cup who is very attractive to follow. Now the FEI wants to change the rules. Why?

The FEI Nations Cup™ is the oldest of the FEI series. It has existed for over a century, and has gone through a number of transformations in that time. In recent years, there has been an awareness that the concept was in need of a major review and the restructuring process is seen as key to ensuring the future of the series. The Saudi Equestrian Fund provided full financial support for the 2012 series and has agreed to a five-year title sponsorship commencing in 2013, once the remodelling process has been finalised. The objective is to make the Nations Cup universal, fresh and exciting and we believe this is a fantastic opportunity to preserve one of our flagship events and a key part of the FEI’s heritage. *FEI Nations Cup press release attached for reference.

You must be very happy about the fact that during the Olympic Games 2012 in London all tested horses and riders were negative. This is an important step on your FEI Clean Sport campaign you started after the Games in Hong Kong where several horses were tested positive.

Fair play and clean sport is the only way to produce top sport and we were very proud to announce that London 2012 was a clean Games for equestrian sport. Our goal was zero positives at London 2012 and that’s what we achieved, with clean results for human and equine athletes at both the Olympics and Paralympics, despite the fact that there were more horses were tested than ever before and each sample was screened for more substances than ever before.

We had a really steep mountain to climb after Athens and Hong Kong, but we had a clean Youth Olympic Games and a clean FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010 and now we’ve crowned it with a clean Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.

This demonstrates the success of the FEI Clean Sport campaign, which has resulted in a major reduction in the number of positives in the Olympic disciplines over the past two and a half years, and is a great endorsement of all the work that has gone into making our sport a clean sport..

Having a clean sport should be our normal day to day business, and for this reason the FEI Clean Sport campaign is a constant part of our work across all of our disciplines.

*London 2012 Clean Games press releases (Olympic & Paralympic) attached for reference.

Are there other plans by the FEI to make show jumping or equestrian sport in general even more attractive in the near future?

The FEI and the National Federations are always looking for ways to make all the sports we govern more exciting and accessible to everyone.

This is a constant part of our work on a global level, and we work very closely with all the stakeholders in our sports to make this happen.

As the President of FEI and the wife of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, you have many representational engagements, you also work closely with various regional und global charities, as well as social organisation. On top of this you travel a lot as an ambassador for different humanitarian organisations around the world. And you are mother of a girl and a boy. Do you still have the time for riding out from time to time?

Riding has always been, and will always be part of my life.

So as well as being a mother, a wife, performing my official duties and humanitarian work I always find the time to ride.

Currently, I ride mostly with my family and this is fantastic because it is a passion we all share. I am never happier than when I am down in the stables, and that doesn’t have to mean riding. I am just as happy sweeping the yard or sitting on a bale of hay as I am when I’m actually on a horse.

You were yourself a show jumper on a very high level. For many years you participated on many important shows in Europe, 2000 in the Sydney Olympics and two years later in Spain you were the first Arab woman to qualify and compete in an Equestrian World Championship. Do you still take part in competitions?

I have competed since I was very young and, as an Olympian, the competitive spirit stays with you forever.

Whenever I can I ride, and one day I hope to get back to competing, but I’m also loving having the opportunity to give something back to the sport that has provided me with so many wonderful memories – we’ll see what the future holds.

Because of your husband Sheikh Mohammed and his family, horseracing and endurance sports are very popular in Dubai. How popular is show jumping in the Middle East?

Jumping is getting more and more popular in the Middle East and the success of the Saudi Arabian team at the London Olympic Games, where they won the team bronze, has increased the exposure for the sport in the region and that will, in turn, grow the numbers that participate in Jumping.

There are a number of high-profile talented international riders and brilliant horses in the Middle East, and this is helping the sport to continue to grow. There is also strong team management, which means that the athletes are doing extremely well at high-profile international events.

The fact that the Saudi Equestrian Fund has come in as sponsor for the FEI Nations Cup series and is playing such an active role in the remodelling of the series shows that the sport has a real relevance to the Middle East.

Your daughter Sheika Al Jalila will be five years old in December. Is she already riding?

My daughter has a passion for riding and everything associated with caring for her ponies, including grooming and feeding. She is already showing real talent and I hope that her little brother Ziyad will follow in her footsteps. This makes me very happy and proud, as horses will always be a way of life for us as a family.