A tragic backstory that leads to an amazing life cannot be overlooked, and in long-distance runner Mo Farah’s case, his backstory is as sad as they come.
Fortunately, he was able to persevere through sorrow and adversity, as he revealed that as a kid he was taken from his family and trafficked into the U.K. before becoming a world-class Olympian and runner.
Mo Farah, who says he was born Hussein Abdi Kahin, is a British long-distance runner from Somalia who has dominated his sport for years, but before the fame and glory Farah was a kidnapped young boy who was trafficked into the U.K. and forced into servitude as a kid. He revealed this in a documentary by BBC about him set to air on Wednesday.
Through this documentary I have been able to address and learn more about what happened in my childhood and how I came to the UK. I'm really proud of it and hope you will tune into @BBC at 9pm on Weds to watch. pic.twitter.com/rqZe41gFm8
— Sir Mo Farah (@Mo_Farah) July 11, 2022
“Most people know me as Mo Farah,” he told BBC. “But that’s not my name or it’s not the reality. The real story is I was born in Somaliland, north of Somalia, as Hussein Abdi Kahin.”
Farah told BBC that as a kid he was taken from the East African nation of Djibouti. Around the age of 8 or 9, Farah was taken by a woman he didn’t know to Britain using fake documents and changing his name from Hussein Abdi Kahin to Mohammed Farah. From there he was brought to an apartment in London where the woman forced him to care for her other children, while also denying him from going to school until he was 12 years old.
“I wasn’t treated as part of the family,” Farah says in the documentary. “If I wanted food in my mouth, my job was to look after those kids — shower them, cook for them, clean for them.”
While under the watchful eye of this woman forcing him into servitude, she also threatened Farah that he would never see his family again if he didn’t listen. While he originally said he and his family migrated to Britain from Somalia, that was never the case.
His parents were never in the UK, and in the case of his father, he was killed when Farah was only 4 by gunfire due to civil unrest in Somalia. His mother and two brothers live on their farm in Somaliland, a portion of Somalia that is not internationally recognized.
Farah would eventually be able to attend school at age 12, which is where he’d find his big break.
He was an exceptional runner, and his physical education teacher took notice, and this is when Farah told his story to that teacher, who then told local officials the situation and they eventually found a Somali family to take him in as a foster child.
After finding a new family that would take him in as their own, he said that he immediately felt relieved, regardless of the fact that he still wasn’t with his original family.
“I still missed my real family, but from that moment everything got better,” Farah said. “I felt like a lot of stuff was lifted off my shoulders, and I felt like me.”
The British runner never spoke about this before because he feared deportation. But after gaining the courage and understanding that human trafficking is a worldwide plague that is ruining lives and families, he decided to speak out and tell his story.
“I had no idea there was so many people who are going through exactly the same thing that I did,” he said. “It just shows how lucky I was.”
Farah would eventually gain U.K. citizenship in 2000, and go on to represent Britain in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympics. He would win four Olympic gold medals — capturing both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters in 2012 and in 2016 — and six world titles en route to a flawless résumé. To cap off an amazing run, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017.
While Farah went on to lead an amazing life and have a legendary career, it is still disturbing to think that only his athletic gifts helped him escape servitude. But as fate would have it, Farah was able to persevere through those troubling times to become not only an inspirational athlete, but a beacon of hope and an advocate against human trafficking worldwide.