By Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational communication
On 16 February the BBC broke the news with its update on Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum.
Two years ago a video from the FreeLatifa YouTube channel was published. In the video, Sheikha Latifa described her plans to flee the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She said it was a matter of life and death given ‘all her father cares about is his reputation. He will kill people to protect his own reputation’.
Latifa’s father is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – ruler of the Emirate of Dubai.
In the latest blow to Sheikh Al Maktoum’s pristine image, BBC Panorama released new footage showing a pale and distraught Princess Latifa talking about her ordeal of being held ‘hostage’ in a ‘villa converted into a jail’. She also said that she was unsure whether she would ‘survive this’ but she ‘just wants to be free’.
Following these revelations, the United Nations (UN) human rights office demanded ‘proof of life’ from the UAE. Elizabeth Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN rights office said that in light of the ‘disturbing video evidence that emerged […] We requested more information and clarification about Sheikha Latifa’s current situation.’
Thereafter, on behalf of Latifa’s family the UAE Embassy in London issued a statement. It said that the latest BBC report was ‘certainly not reflective of the actual position. Her family has confirmed that Her Highness is being cared for at home, supported by her family and medical professionals.’
Sheikh Al Maktoum commented that he had to act in his daughter’s ‘best interest.’
The BBC describes him as being ‘synonymous’ with all things equestrian. But what does this scandal mean for the sport of horse riding and what would happen should he face criminal charges?
The Sheikh is the founder of Godolphin – ‘the world’s largest horse racing stable.’ Godolphin ‘owns some of the finest, world-class Thoroughbred breeding and training facilities with locations in the United Kingdom, France, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.’
Newmarket – 65 miles north of London – is where Godolphin and the Sheikh’s Dalham Hall breeding operation are based in the UK. According to the BBC, ‘many jobs are thought to depend on Sheikh Mohammed’s investment, especially in Newmarket.’
In 2017, the horse racing and breeding industry was found to have grown the Newmarket economy by £34M.
Following the 2017 report on the economic impact of the equestrian industry on Newmarket, William Gittus, Chairman of the Newmarket Horsemen’s Group, had said the findings ‘underline the importance of protecting the industry, not just what we have at present but also the need to allow for potential further growth and expansion of the town’s largest economic contributor.’
The British Horse Racing Authority (which runs the UK industry), The Jockey Club – known for hosting such events as The Derby and The Cheltenham Festival, and Godolphin have been noticeably quiet since the BBC’s revelation.
As part of the BHA’s guidelines for ownership of a race horse, they state that license to do so may be relinquished where an individual has been convicted of a criminal offence either in the UK or a foreign jurisdiction. ‘Particular consideration’, the guidelines say, ‘will be given to offences […] relating to violence and health and safety.’
When asked whether the government would consider freezing assets or imposing a travel ban upon Sheikh Al Maktoum, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had said ‘convincibly, if there’s evidence […] and facts’, Princess Latifa’s case could constitute torture. He went on, however, to explain ‘strict legal thresholds [mean…] we can[not] willy-nilly just slap sanctions on individuals.’
The BBC paints a bleak picture of Britain’s ability and willingness to distance itself from the Sheikh. In an article, they cited that due to the pandemic the UK’s horse racing industry could potentially lose more than £60m, and that severing ties with the Sheikh would be a minefield – the Emirates airline has a huge stake in British football.
As the spotlight becomes more and more glaring, the horse racing industry will soon be forced to answer questions surrounding its now controversially close ties with the Emirati Sheikh.
Photo caption: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, founder of Godolphin, pictured with his son Sheikh Hamdan bin Al Maktoum. (Credit: via Godolphin)