How racing could save a young woman’s life

Matt Nicholls
April 18, 2019, Matt Nicholls Media

Somewhere in the United Arab Emirates is a 33-year-old woman who fears for her life.

Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – or Princess Latifa, as she is best known – is being held against her will by her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

The same man is the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai.

He is also the head of the powerful Godolphin racing stable, a worldwide operation which has achieved some of its best success in Australia.

Last year, Princess Latifa, with the help of a Finnish friend and a former French spy, hatched an elaborate escape plan that involved fleeing the country by car and then by jet ski.

They crossed the border from the UAE to Oman and then boarded jet skis bound for India.

However, they were intercepted on the water by Indian authorities and taken back to Dubai by UAE’s security services.

Before being captured, Princess Latifa recorded a 39-minute video outlining her reasons for wanting to escape, detailing maltreatment of her and one of her sisters, as well as other serious allegations involving her father.

That was in March 2018. Latifa wasn’t seen publicly again until Christmas Day when the Dubai royal court released heavily staged photos of the Princess alongside Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland.

This only happened after the UN threatened to expose Sheikh Mohammed and his treatment of Princess Latifa.

Princess Latifa and former Irish president Mary Robinson were pictured together in a staged photo shoot released by the UAE palace on Christmas Day last year. The footage was supposedly taken on December 15.

The staged photo shoot sparked immediate outcry from human rights groups around the world, who said the pictures failed to prove anything and that – if anything – it made it look more like Latifa was being held against her will.

You can read more about Princess Latifa’s story in a story I wrote last month, but let’s just address the basic point – a Prime Minister with strong connections to Australian racing is holding his daughter captive and our industry is doing nothing about it.

It is not only concerning that the Australian racing industry, and the racing media, is ignoring the issue, but it’s downright sad when you consider it has the power to push for a positive outcome.

There’s no doubt that Sheikh Mohammed’s racing empire is a plaything; a vehicle of leisure and something to stroke his ego.

If you can threaten to take away his toy, and perhaps dent his ego a little, it should provoke change.

If the Australian racing industry decided overnight that it wanted to help Latifa, it could devise a plan within a day, execute it, and the Sheikh would be forced to respond.

It sounds simplistic, but there are some groups and individuals that could help make it happen.

The CEO of Racing Victoria, for starters. If Giles Thompson called a press conference tomorrow and said he was condemning the actions of Sheikh Mohammed and was issuing Godolphin a show cause notice as to why Racing Victoria should accept its nominations, it would start a movement.

Racing Victoria CEO Giles Thompson has so far been silent on the Princess Latifa issue.

When you consider the Princess Latifa story has been public for some time now, it’s disappointing there has been no commentary on the matter from Racing Victoria’s hierarchy or any racing jurisdiction, for that matter.

But I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.

Racing has been sucking on the teet of the Godolphin empire and the Sheikh himself for most of this century.

Until a couple of years ago, Emirates was the multi-million dollar sponsor of the Melbourne Cup carnival. The state-owned airline is headed by Sheikh Mohammed’s uncle.

And it’s hard to know how much Godolphin spends on advertising within the racing industry, whether it be on, Sky Racing, in Best Bets or the Winning Post, but it would have to be in the millions over the past 20 years.

Perhaps that’s why Thompson doesn’t want to get involved.

When you Google the Racing Victoria CEO’s name, the first link that appears has nothing to do with his current role. Instead, there’s a link to an advocacy website.

Thompson is listed as an ambassador for Male Champions of Change, an organisation that is focused on gender equality.

To quote the website: “Male Champions of Change works with influential leaders to redefine men’s role in taking action on gender inequality. It activates peer groups of influential male leaders, supports them to step up beside women, and drives the adoption of actions across the private sector and government.”

Sounds like a noble cause.

But how can Thompson be a champion of this organisation and say nothing about the treatment of Princess Latifa?

UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed has kidnapped and allegedly drugged one of his daughters. Yet he continues to race horses around the globe without any consequences. How pathetically weak is the racing industry to let this go unquestioned?

Last week we saw a powerful response from Aquis Farm, a major racing and breeding barn. It said it would withdraw all runners from Queensland races until integrity issues were solved in the state.

Without wanting to trail off into that story, the move was commendable.

Imagine if Gai Waterhouse came out tomorrow and said: “With all due respect to James Cummings and the wonderful staff at the Godolphin stable in Sydney, I find the behaviour of Sheikh Mohammed to be unacceptable and a gross breach of human rights. Therefore, I am scratching all of my runners in Sydney until there is change.”

Potentially it would be a risky move. But then the pressure would be put on Chris Waller and Peter Snowden and other major stables to follow suit. It would only take two race meetings to be called off for something to happen.

The other body that could deal a hefty blow to Godolphin is the Australian Jockeys Association.

If the jockeys took a stance not to ride for the Sheikh’s organisation until Princess Latifa was given the choice of freedom, there would be a ripple effect around the world.

Momentum is key in cases like this.

All of a sudden there’s a change in Australia. Then the British media start hounding UK trainers and the local Godolphin operations.

If trainers won’t compete against Godolphin and jockeys won’t ride for them, the Sheikh will be backed up against a wall. And as a man with around 30 children to six wives, I’d bet that he’d choose his racing operations over his daughter.

Kerrin McEvoy returns to scale aboard the Godolphin horse Cross Counter after winning the 2018 Melbourne Cup. Meanwhile, Princess Latifa was locked up somewhere in the UAE. The racing must take a stand against Sheikh Mohammed by condemning his actions and demanding that his daughter be released.

My last piece on this subject went around the globe, yet was ignored locally by those who can make a difference.

This time, they cannot shirk the challenge.

Princess Latifa is an intelligent woman who grew up wanting to help others.

Now she needs our help.

Public pressure and genuine consequences from within the racing industry is the best way to drive change.

The Australian public blew up (rightly) when Israel Folau posted a discriminatory image on his Instagram account.

In Latifa’s case, she needs that kind of outcry. Look up her story, educate yourself on the facts and push for change.

The racing industry has the power to save a young woman’s life. How could you possibly do nothing?