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[RC] Possible strategy for dealing with sticky moral issues - Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

I've been thinking a lot about this whole issue of boycott/not boycott rather a lot. Reading all the emails on both sides. I guess that I reached a sort of critical mass last night because this morning I found that I could write my thoughts. That's not to say that they are utterly clear. I think that I can really appreciate Kat's view that she would hope that she could turn down the invitation if she got one. You can ponder them and see if they make sense, but in the end I am an outsider. No one has or ever will invite me to participate in the WEC.

This may be a bit long and not the best organised so bear with me.

I faced a lot of the same issues that you are facing when I realised what the intentions of the UAE were for the 120 km race held in May 2000. I had been hired by the Jockey Club of Egypt to manage the race and I took my mandate to be the protection of horses and riders in a possibly hazardous situation. The Jockey Club wanted the money that Maktoum was making available for the race and the support for the flat racing afterwards. Within 24 hours of the arrival of our technical delegate I realised that the UAE had no intention of running an honest race. The base camp recommendation was vetoed as being not scenic and posh enough. The track was declared "hazardous", that is to say not flat and not close enough to the pyramids for the grand photos of the sheikhs riding past. We spent a week driving around the desert and villages of the area looking for a "suitable" track while Feisal Seddiq's bodyguards threw 10LE notes out of the car windows to watch the children fight over them. Sweet.

The final track was arranged by paying the Antiquities Council to allow cars and horses to travel within 100 metres of the pyramids, water stops were set up without regard to the fact that choices often included spots that were too close to villages and often on the village football pitches. The boys play soccer in the desert every Friday, the day of the race. The flags were put out at 2 am the day of the race so there were no maps available and no proper briefing. As Ride Manager I had no idea where the riders were going. My numerous volunteers were assigned to positions that would ensure they saw almost nothing and could learn almost nothing or they weren't assigned at all. A planeload of clueless Emiratis were flown in to ensure the "proper" reports. I sent people out anyway even though we really had no idea where they were going. I could go on forever about that week and the day of the race. It was like being thrown into a tank of sharks to learn to swim. After all, everything I knew about endurance I'd learned on Ridecamp. I'd never seen a race, but someone had to get out there and do something for our people. I worked harder than I've ever worked in my life, got into serious fights with security forces who wanted to roust the visiting horses and grooms for a bomb search at 3 am (I refused flatly and they went away), threw a water bottle at a general who refused to understand that I had women, children and retirees standing out in the sun in spots chosen by the UAE and being threatened by justly angry village youths with rocks, sticks and in some cases knives. When I think about it now, it was crazy. But the UAE didn't realise that I was the wife of a seriously important Egyptian who was, in her own way, untouchable and that I DIDN'T WANT ANYTHING FROM THEM.

There is the key. Once you want something, anything, from someone they have power over you. Very zen but it works. I still have a good relationship with the staff who work for Maktoum. I got a lot of respect from them, a lot of support and encouragement and came to understand a lot. I realise that they are in the power of their employers and I understand duress.

I caused a massive amount of hassle for the UAE because I didn't give a damn about them. I didn't go home before the race, saying that they weren't playing fair. I warned them that I was difficult, I stuck it out, worked my job, and then very publicly criticised them on points of fact. Absolutely drove them nuts and the races here have become saner...if UAE endurance is ever sane, which I don't believe that it can be. At the end of the race, I insisted that our vet students be paid for their time and work. Feisal Seddiq paid each one USD 100, which was a nice amount for the kids. He gave me 300 USD and while he was still there, I gave it to some of the workers saying that I didn't need it since I spent more than that on a pair of shoes. (A lie, by the way. Maybe riding boots if I found the right ones. <G>) I made sure that I didn't keep anything at all from them. That way no one could say that I was pissed off that I didn't get anything, but everyone knew that I gave it away.

I think that people should go to the WEC if they want to, but on the other hand I don't think that the issues should be allowed to die. I think that you all should work at spreading the word to other riders from other countries. I think that whoever goes should thank their hosts for a good time and donate any gifts or prize money to a charity, preferably one dealing with the camel boys. These people should be used the same way that they have been using American, Australian, German, and even Egyptian riders since day one. And make it clear that is what is happening. There are riders who won't go along with the strategy, but it is the one that will hurt the most.

One of the things that has bothered me the most about the US involvement in endurance in the UAE is the fact that Dubai have stage managed the events so that everyone has come home oooing and aahing about how generous, friendly, blah, blah, blah Maktoum is. It's bullshit. They are giving up something that means nothing to them...money. And they think that they are buying friendship and respect, but are they giving that? No. US riders would be horrified to be able to understand what is said about them behind their backs. There is no respect coming back. You are all tools. Mohamed Maktoum is not friendly, kind, or any of those things. He's the damn Minister of Defense. The UAE believes that everyone but themselves can be bought, and so far not too many people have proven them wrong. Frankly if the UAE weren't paying the tab for this, how many riders would go to the trouble of getting their horses all the way to Dubai? And without all those riders how empty would a UAE victory in the WEC seem?

When I have to deal with the UAE, and I still do show up at the big races here often as the guide for press coverage, I treat everyone with the utmost of civiltiy as is due any human being, but I make damn sure that the reporters I am guiding get a clear and unbaissed look at the race. I am treated, in return, with respect and a certain amount of fear by those who are fiddling the results. The real people, the vets and those I know well on the technical staff rather enjoy my presence because it ensures that people are around to blow whistles without them having to do it.

I think that riders who choose to travel should be encouraged to go with their eyes wide open and all the rose-coloured glasses left at home. This is a fantastic opportunity to travel and see a part of the world that they might otherwise never see. Don't work too hard to win. It isn't worth it and doesn't really mean much. You won't likely win anyway, for reasons that I could go into another time. But go. See the good, the bad, and the ugly. Ask questions. Get involved in discussions. Watch what goes on and see how it works rather than being awed by the bells and whistles. All this electronic hooha has a lot of of ways to fiddle it. LEARN, LEARN, LEARN. If riders choose to USE this opportunity to learn more about the UAE, then by all means they should USE it.

As the Prophet said, seek knowledge even unto China.

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani
Cairo, Egypt


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