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FEI president's fight against doping hits home

VEVEY, Switzerland — When Princess Haya of Jordan became president of equestrians' world governing body, her task was to confront the sport's growing drug problems. Now that her husband is at the center of the most recent doping case, her task has become a lot more difficult.

The princess is finding herself under increased scrutiny after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, said last week that a horse he owns and rides failed doping tests twice after endurance races sanctioned by his wife's organization — the Fédération Équestre Internationale, or International Equestrian Federation, which oversees the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games that Lexington will host in 2010.

Princess Haya said she fears that a "few individuals" who oppose "the increase in democracy and the fight against corruption in the FEI" will draw on the doping revelation to undermine her.

"I have no doubt ... that they will use this case in any way they can to injure and damage the reputations of myself and my family," the princess wrote via e-mail.

She did not specify which individuals she was referring to, but said she hoped the disciplinary case pending against Sheikh Mohammed might end up strengthening her federation's drive toward drug-free competitions.

She said the federation's "image is only in jeopardy if it does not act in a clear, transparent and timely fashion."

The princess will take no part in deciding her husband's penalty, with a senior colleague assuming her presidential powers when the case is considered. She also informed the ethics panel at the International Olympic Committee, having been an IOC member since 2007.

It is a bitter twist for the former show jumping Olympian who was picked, in large part, to combat doping.

At an election three years ago, most of the 134 national members felt it needed change after three gold medalists at the 2004 Athens Games were stripped of their titles in doping cases.

The Beijing Games magnified the problems. The IOC criticized judging standards in dressage, and six horses failed drug tests, resulting in suspensions for their riders. One case, involving Norway's bronze medal in team jumping, is under appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"That has left an enormously bad taste among the general public, but it's certainly not reflective of our family," Princess Haya said. "We have paid a very, very high price for actually trying to do the right thing."

At the FEI's assembly in Argentina last November, she invited all members to contribute to a review of medication use and doping standards led by Arne Ljungqvist, the chairman of the IOC's medical commission. The Swedish doping expert will publish his report in the summer.

She also persuaded the FEI's dressage committee to resign. She said her leadership became "much stronger and more forceful than I would have liked."

Sheikh Mohammed rode his own horse, Tahhan, in 75-mile endurance races at Bahrain in January and Dubai in February when Tahhan failed doping tests performed by his staff. Both times the hypertension drug guanabenz was present. After the Bahrain race, a metabolite of the anabolic steroid stanozolol was found.

In a statement issued on his behalf Monday, the 59-year-old sheikh — owner of Gainsborough Farm in Versailles and one of the world's foremost breeders and owners of Thoroughbred racehorses — accepted that he was legally responsible for the doping. He ordered an investigation of his stables and that the findings be shared with the FEI.

Princess Haya acknowledged that doping in endurance races is a problem in the Middle East. "The FEI has been struggling to deal with the number of doping cases," she said in her e-mail message, adding that her husband could help change attitudes. "The effect will be felt more surely and more quickly than the FEI has been able to achieve to date."