Princess Haya of Jordan, Sheikha of Dubai: "Sport Empowers Women"

She's pure royalty: the daughter of King Hussein of Jordan, sister of Jordan's reigning King Abdullah, and married to Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed. But Princess Haya is also a power woman in her own right: as President of the International Equestrian Federation, she's in charge of horse sports around the world. Indeed, the glamorous princess believes sports can transform the status of women not just in the Middle East.

The Olympic Games are approaching. You often say that sports empower women. How, exactly?
For women sport the surest way to achieve pride in their own communities and to be able to express themselves on an individual basis. And, through sports they generate pride and support among their communities and their own families that they might otherwise not have. Many people talk about achieving change in women's status, but sport teaches tolerance, team spirit, solidarity -- all of those things that break up stereotypes and build up confidence. I've seen the change that I've seen happen for women when they've been allowed to really generate pride and been able to represent their communities in raising the flag for their villages, cities and countries. So, sports do something for women that nothing in else can because it gives them a vehicle to express themselves.

Female competitive sport is booming in the Middle East. Do you see that as a natural development?
I'm very proud and I do see it as a natural development. I feel that governments are realizing the fact that sports is one of the most perfect tools for social development, for teaching social responsibility and for giving women a chance to develop. In the areas I'm active in, like humanitarian work, we try to prove the place of women in the community and through facts and figures show their value to decision-makers so that they make women a top priority. Now we're actually seeing governments, not just in the Middle East, invest a lot in women's sports. I'm very, very proud of it and I totally believe it's the way forward both for the women as individuals, for their families and for the future of our region. This is something that no money can buy. Sport is one of the factors that helps to transform the Middle East.

Doping, cheating: from your perspective as President of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), what do you see as the biggest challenge in the equestrian world today?
Since the 2008 Olympics all our events have been clean. Our events have been more heavily policed and more tested than ever before. Yes, we did have a problem in 2008, but we did face it head-on and in the 2012 Olympics we'll have the best sports and sportsmanship we've ever had.

Speaking of the horses, you're patron of Retraining of Racehorses. If they're not retrained, what kind of life do these horses face?
Horses are like people. There's always a job that the horse is good at, and it might not necessarily be the job it has been bred for. Even if a horse has been bred as a race horse, it may be more suitable for something else. One of the lovely things about being involved with the retraining of racehorses is that horses that were bred for the racetrack but aren't suitable for racing -- perhaps they're too big, too late in their development, or not fast enough -- are being retrained to see if they can compete in other sports. The horses in Retraining for Racehorses are retrained for things like showjumping, showing.

Your father, King Hussein of Jordan, lasted through plenty of tumult. Right now the Middle East is more tumultuous than usual, and Jordan is bearing the brunt of the burden from the conflict in Syria. Does that worry you?
I'm not the best person to answer this question. My father and my brother were and are both heads of state, and in my life I've found that when people who're not involved in politics make large sweeping statements it affects the people who are directly involved in the situation very badly. But I'd say that the subject you ask about is impossible to take in isolation. This is a context and a region that have to be understood. There are very deep and intricate religious aspects that have to be looked at. It's not one or two countries in isolation. But I do know in my heart that my brother, like my father before him, is doing absolutely everything he can to make sure there's peace and stability for the people and the country he loves. I just pray that we have the bright people that our people deserve. From my own point of view, what I can do to help is work in the areas that I'm qualified to work in, specifically hunger, poverty and sports.

Which role do sports play in your own life?
Sports play a very big role in my life and that of my family. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed is a person who loves sports. He exercises all the time. Sports is a way of life for us. We don't say, "ok, we're going to go to the gym every single day". We find the time to ride. If my husband has a choice between going in a car or walk, he'll choose walking. We don't do sports to cope with the pressures; it's to have a happy life. And we love the community of sports. We're normal people when we compete, and what we compete is our achievement. Yes, we continue to ride horses, but we also walk, play football, play volleyball, play tennis. My children are the same as their father: if there's an opportunity to run, they'll run.

Will you be watching the Olympics?
I'll not only be watching it; I'll be involved! I'll help the other members of my FEI to produce an equestrian version of the Games that's worthy of history.

Previously published in Metro