20 Oct 2015

HRH Princess Haya gives the opening speech at the Beyond Sport Summit in London

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


What a great honour it is for me to be able to join you today, and how wonderful it is to see so many familiar faces from the world of sport.

What a real privilege it is for me to be here with you in London in the midst of the excitement of the Rugby World Cup. The tournament has captivated audiences across the globe, galvanised nations behind teams, and seen dreams born and tested as glory beckons for some.  

London is truly one of the greatest cities in the world, a city which produces, and regularly plays host to some of the finest sport in the world.

And London was the host of an Olympic Games like no other. Along with millions of people the world over, I too fell in love with London in 2012 and of course, Greenwich, specifically, will forever hold a special place in my heart.

But it wasn’t just the incredibly efficient organisation; it was Londoners. The United Kingdom has such a rich and diverse history and heritage not just in sport, but in sportsmanship. London 2012 showed that and so too Londoners are displaying that same kind of sportsmanship in full Rugby stadia throughout this tournament.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we meet today at a critical juncture in sports governance. Never before have we seen sports governance debated on the front page of national newspapers and live on TV. But make no mistake; what is being played out in the Court of Public Opinion in respect of the world’s most popular sport affects us all. The world is watching sports governance in a way that it has never done, and so for all sports’ governing bodies there could be few more important topics of conversation for us in this room today, and I am grateful for the opportunity to join the debate.

This last weekend, watching the Springboks secure a hard-fought quarter-final victory at Twickenham last Saturday night, reminded me of South Africa’s historic 1995 Rugby World Cup triumph.

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon reminded us all but who can forget that image of Nelson Mandela wearing a Springbok rugby jersey, that ultimate symbol of Afrikaner identity, which came to represent a symbol of reconciliation and a moment of hope to the world. Francois, I haven’t forgotten. You were there too!

For many South Africans, that gesture signified the real birth of the Rainbow Nation; for the world, it was a fantastic symbol of the power of sport, a power for good that has shown itself again and again in different geographies and circumstances throughout the world.

Sport cannot solve the world’s problems, but it can help us to move toward solutions. Pierre de Coubertin was right when he said that sport can help nations to understand each other.

In 1971, table tennis matches between players from the United States and China led the way for diplomatic relations between the two countries after more than two decades of hostility. When one of the American players returned to the United States, he told a journalist what he had learned from his encounters with Chinese competitors.

“The people are just like us,” he said. “They are real; they’re genuine, I made friends.”

At the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, African-American medallists Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos harnessed the power of sport when they raised their fists in the black power salute at the medal ceremony to protest racism.  

International attention often brings positive change outside the world of sport. Historians agree that the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul hastened South Korea’s transition from a military regime to a thriving democracy.

And in this centenary of World War One so poignantly commemorated in the UK and Europe, I must refer to the Christmas Day Truce; that football match on Christmas Day 1914 when British and German troops laid down their arms, emerged from the trenches and played a game of football. Whether fact of fiction, again the power of sport is there for all to see. The power to cross borders and boundaries, languages and faiths. Then power to communicate.

Over time, people have learned how to harness the power of sport to push their own agendas, be they political, social, or personal. But Ladies and gentlemen, with power, comes responsibility. As Sports’ Administrators, and many of us as former athletes ourselves, we have seen glimpses and tasted of the magic of sport and the thrill of the spotlight. But I believe that we here in this room today have the greatest responsibility of all, to work tirelessly, to channel the power of sport in positive ways, rather than using it for self-glorification.

Quite simply, we cannot play games with sport. We have to remember that sport itself is not “just a game”, and nor can it be considered a luxury within any society, it is an important investment in both the present and the future.

In fact, the United Nations charter states that sport and play are human rights – rights that must be respected and enforced worldwide. My late father, His Majesty King Hussein, believed so passionately in the power of sport that he used to say that the three ministries essential to the security and well-being of a nation are the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Sport and the Ministry of Finance for those are the real ministries of defence.

Yet, while the power and potential of sport have perhaps never been so vital and relevant, we find ourselves in an era in which headlines are dominated by stories which discredit the bodies charged with governing the biggest sports in the world.

Of course, sport is complex and contradictory. It can mirror the worst as well as the best of society and like fire which can heat homes but if not treated properly, can also burn them down, sport has the potential to engender corruption, discrimination, violence, racism hooliganism, nationalism, doping and fraud.

The fact is that we cannot be romantic about the positive potential of sport. That does not develop automatically. For sport to unleash its full positive potential, those that govern sport must guide and direct.

Public trust in sport governance must be re-established. We will have to work very hard to achieve that because it is plain for all to see better, responsible governance is key.

That won’t be easy. Believe me; I know very well how unpopular a “reforming” leader can make him or herself. My family seems to be making a habit of that, and I know how difficult it can be to push reforms through in the face of resistance.

When my seven-year-old daughter’s only comment after her first horse show was that in future, I should not wear an FEI blazer because it made people give us dirty looks, I knew there was still work to be done! And this was during a period of relative calm during my Presidency! You should only hear what she says to her Uncle Ali.

But the fact remains that, no matter how hard it can be to achieve, only better governance will help us to better serve the sports that we love. This is not an option, it is an obligation, our responsibility.

Now, this Ladies and Gentlemen means having the courage as leaders not to entrench ourselves so much that an organisation cannot function without us. Rather work in such a way as to effectively make ourselves redundant. Make the organisation strong enough to embrace a new generation of leaders who bring new ideas and new energies.

It means being willing to a do a job and frequently fade into the background, rather than constantly seeking to bask in the reflected glory of the athletes we serve.

Good governance means term limits, clear processes, clarity of direction, and sometimes, the staying power to see through a cultural shift, even in the face of strong resistance. It means publishing salaries and being transparent in front of those who empower us to represent them

Sport does not exist in a vacuum. In order to earn its place in the world as something that matters, something worthy of the world’s energy and attention, it needs to be governed properly, managed properly and looked up to as a model of best by my daughter, yours too and by good people everywhere.

Ladies and gentlemen, we meet today against the backdrop of an intercontinental humanitarian crisis of proportions seldom seen in recent history.

A crisis which is knocking on the doors of Europe, and a crisis demanding the attention of the world.

While we convene here in London, in the comfort of the BT Tower today, desperate families elsewhere in the world are taking unthinkable risks to escape conflict and adversity. Many of them will lose their lives in the process.

Against this backdrop, some may ask, how dare we meet to talk about sport?

Well, I have given a great deal of thought to questions similar to this throughout my life. I am a sportswoman,

I am an Olympian, and I have served two terms as the elected President of an International Governing Body of Sport, the FEI, and I am a humanitarian.

None of these roles is mutually exclusive. Coming, as I do, from a region that is deeply troubled in many ways, I am acutely aware that there are always important things happening in the world that are worthy of our attention, action, and concern. I have devoted much of my life to trying to respond to the need to make the world a better place and I have also devoted much of my life to sport, and I have seen at first hand the positive sports programmes run in refugee camps and amongst disadvantaged children the world over.

What I have learned over time, is that juxtaposing a passion for sport alongside the other pressing concerns only comes into question when sport itself is in doubt. When sport itself ceases to be seen as “good”, it starts to lose its mandate and questions about its validity and its worth bubble to the fore.

And so ladies and gentlemen, we in this room today have a responsibility to ensure that in 2015 sport continues to be powerful, relevant, valid and credible and properly governed. Sport must be that force for good which good people can look up to.

Of course sport is not the panacea, but I am passionate about its genuine potential to make the world a better place, and so, I am not here to ask, “how dare we” talk about sport, but rather to challenge you to consider today the ways in which we can dare to ensure that sport, all sport is a force for good and is served and led with the utmost integrity.

Sport must be harnessed as a force for good for men and for women, for people young and old, of all nationalities, ethnicities and social and religious backgrounds, in an increasingly complex and difficult world.

I have joined you today because I believe that you, today’s generation of leaders have a great responsibility to ensure that sport lives up to its potential as a driver of positive social change. I am honoured to be amongst you as you consider the way ahead and wish you well for the conference.

Thank you.