The Sunday TimesTimesports

27th April 1997




Rifka leads TT team to Dhaka

By M.E.Marikar

Kandy's Rifka Kameel of Sri Pushphadana Balika MMV. has done proud by her community by being the first Muslim girl to be selected to lead a National team.

Sixteen-year-old Rifka Kameel has been selected to captain the three member junior women's team that will take part in the SAF Games at Dhaka, Bangladash next month.

Kameel who has just sat her G.C.E. (Ord.Level) examination told The Sunday Times that while pursuing her studies she will also aim at becoming the country's National Singles TT champion, a title that has eluded her for some time. She is presently seeded No.4 behind Deepika Rodrigo also of Kandy.

Rifka hails from a popular sporting family in Kandy. Her father M.A.Kameel played cricket and soccer for top teams in Kandy after completing his studies at Zahira College, Gampola. He is presently employed in the Middle East. Rifka's mother, Mrs.Kameel, (nee Dole) also hails from a famous Malay sporting family in Kandy. Her father, late Inspector Dole was a prominent figure in Police soccer teams of yore. Her brothers Farook Dole, presently in Australia, played rugger for the Kandy Lake Club, Kandy SC and Up-Country while Tuan Dole captained St.Anthony's at rugger and also played top rugger for plantation teams. He is presently the President of the Up-Country Rugby Football Association.

Several Muslims have captained national soccer, hockey and rugger teams. However Rifka Kameel becomes the first Muslim girl to skipper a National side.

Jordanian princess wants to take part in 2000 Olympics

You know the button on Porsches that convert from manual to automatic? I sometimes think that's what he needs."

We are admiring Tiptronic, a handsome eight-year-old chestnut gelding Princess Haya of Jordan fondly describes as being usefully slow of thought in the ring: "If he has fear it doesn't register until about 10 minutes after he's over the fence."

The reference to fast cars is the only verbal clue that indicates this horse-loving young woman knows a life beyond the daily round of mucking out and exercising.

The first child of King Hussein and his third wife, the late Queen Alia - and the sixth of the King's 11 children - Princess Haya has swapped life at the Royal Palace in Amman to base herself and her nine horses at showjumper Paul Darrgh's Waterside stud in Ireland.

Having spent the last 18 months on the farm, she intends to stay until 2000, aiming to compete at the Sydney Olympics.

So here she is, doing some consolidation training before hitting the equestrian-show road again, a four-hour flight away from everything she misses.

"I am homesick for the people, the food, the language, my family, my dad, the cars, the weather, everything." And she is here in Ireland, rather than anywhere else in the world, for the simple reason that Darragh, her coach, is one of the few talented showjumpers in the world who understands the problem of being small while in control of a large horse.

"I'm 5ft 2in., and he's shorter than me. It's not only being small that's a disadvantage, but having very short legs. I would never compete with Cindy Crawford or Claudia Schiffer in terms of legs," explains the Princess, who is anyway so glamourous she can afford to be self-deprecating. "It's more difficult getting horses that you fit. All the big horses we have are narrow so I can get my legs round them. The image of a Thelwell pony and a kid with short legs kicking out can easily be created if you put me on a horse that is too big."

Her previous trainer, a 6ft 2in German with a 6ft 3in daughter, asked things of her that were physically impossible. "They used to tell me to shorten my reins but it wasn't my reins that were long, it was just that their arms were so much longer that the positioning looked different."

Darragh had been on the doorstep for six months before she officially became associated with him. "I'd been here because of Alain Storme, Paul's partner, but I primarily came here to ride racehorses. I had my jumpers in Germany but when I started spending so much time here - at college I used to fly over from Oxford in the morning and back in the evening - I thought it better to have my showjumpers here as well.

"I went to the Asian Games in Hiroshima in 1995 and saw Paul working with the Kuwaiti team. I was on the lookout, for someone whose system I could work with and I ended up seeing the person who was in the stables here all the time."

Eighteen months down the road, their association has created something which Princess Haya cites as her greatest success, above such individual milestones as winning nine international style prizes, beating her trainer by a place in a World Cup event in Zagreband taking individual bronze in the Pan Arab Games.

"In a way I would say my survival is the biggest success," she ways wryly, "but the thing I am really proud of is the way the team has now been so solidly set up. We have a wonderful team of horses and everyone here is professional about the way the operation works."

The two horses she hopes to ride in Sydney - the big-muscled grey, Cera and the feline Scandal - are the talk of the equestrian world. Darragh rides them while training them and Princess Haya for the Olympics. Their progress was marked when Darragh won a World Cup qualifier in Seville before Christmas with Cera and won another class at Olympia on Scandal.

One gets the feeling her father demands such an independent attitude. "When my father gave me my first horse at the age of six, a full-bred Arabian, I don't think he thought I would do it this seriously. But he's started to like the idea a lot. When I finished college and said, 'This is what I'd like to do', he was the only one who said, 'Fine.If that's what you want to do, that's great, but you should do it seriously'."

After graduating from St. Hilda's College, Oxford, with a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, everyone else, she says, "raised their eyebrows and thought I was crazy". However, she has introduced a rigorous academic approach to showjumping.

"We're dealing now with ideas about nutrition and training programmes that we've observed in sports like athletics, tennis and swimming and we're writing a computer program that will simulate my position and the horse's position over fences.

"It's all at an infantile stage of development, but, if nothing else, it helps me focus 24 hours a day on the fact that I'm trying to be a world-class athlete."

Equestrianism is a good sport for a modern princess in that, by its very time-consuming, hands-dirtied, weather-chafing nature, it contradicts the image of a spoiled, pampered young royal.

Princess Haya admits to being troubled by the notion that people might have a preconception about her because of her background. "I find this all the time, but what exactly the preconception is I have no idea. If I knew, it would be something I could either combat or live up to. All of that was something I was very concerned about when I started riding.

"The thing I liked here was no one pulled any smooth talk with me or said I am extremely talented. They've always said I've been brought up in the wrong way to go into high-level sport."

If Darragh's fortunes revived when he began riding horses owned by Princess Haya, it remains a mutually beneficial association.

"The main influence Paul has had on me is something that has made me happier: it's not so much not to care, but to do your talking in deeds."

Invited to compete in Atlanta after a mere six months on the international circuit, Princess Haya is glad now she was advised not to. "I felt while we could find a horse that would take me round, I would just be a passenger.

"While the sporting goal is still there, my eyes have opened to a lot of things in the world. Not that I would be sheltered as a young royal; I've learned the pros and cons of being a young woman around the world, trying to do what she wants to do. I know now that if anything ever happened to me I could look after myself. If I quit tomorrow I know that.".

Courtesy Daily Telegraph

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