Mo Farah has been praised as an inspirational figure by friends and politicians after the Olympic medallist revealed he was trafficked into Britain under the name of another child as a nine-year-old, and forced into domestic servitude.
In an interview on BBC’s Radio 4 Today, fellow Olympian Brendan Foster, a friend of Farah’s who has previously described him as Britain’s “greatest sportsman”, said he was “absolutely staggered” by the news.
“I thought I knew the Mo Farah story, and I thought I knew Mo Farah really well,” Foster said, who went on to describe the first time he met Farah.
“I’ve known him for more than 20 years, since he was a young kid. First time I ever met him, I was commentating for the BBC and he was running the junior cross-country world championships. He knocked on the commentator’s door, and I opened the door and he said: ‘Don’t you want to interview me?’, and I said: ‘Well, you only finished 17th, and we don’t normally interview the guy who’s finished 17th.’”
“I said: ‘Look Mo, when you win something, we’ll come back and interview you’, and obviously, he went on to win many many things. But he was still the cheeky chap. He was still the guy who liked to laugh and have fun.”
Asked what he thought about the news of his friend, Foster said: “He hasn’t lied to anybody, but imagine having to bury that and live with that story,” before adding, “My admiration for Mo has gone up.”
The chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, praised Farah on BBC Breakfast as a “truly inspirational” role model, adding that he was “heartbroken” when he learned of the news.
“I was very lucky that I had my parents with me when we fled Iraq”, the Tory leadership hopeful said. “It was difficult no doubt, I was 11 years old, I didn’t understand why we were fleeing Saddam Hussein, I knew he was a dictator, I knew he was bad.”
“All I can say is I salute Mo Farah,” Zahawi added. “What an amazing human being to go through that trauma in childhood and to come through it and be such a great role model is truly inspirational – and exemplary.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, described Farah as “a truly great Briton”.
“Everything Sir Mo has survived proves he’s not only one of our greatest Olympians but a truly great Briton,” Khan tweeted. “Mo-Farah thank you for sharing your story, shining a spotlight on these awful crimes & showing why safe passage is so important for those in need.”
Farah had previously claimed he had left Somalia aged eight to join his father, after his parents made the agonising decision to send three of their six children to London for the chance of a better life.
But the four-time Olympic gold medalist said he was trafficked to London by a stranger under another child’s name, after escaping war in Somalia.
“Most people know me as Mo Farah, but it’s not my name or it’s not the reality,” the 39-year-old says. “The real story is I was born in Somaliland, north of Somalia, as Hussein Abdi Kahin. Despite what I’ve said in the past, my parents never lived in the UK.”
The documentary, The Real Mo Farah, will be broadcast by the BBC on Wednesday.