Sir Mo Farah: The truth is, I’m not who you think I am
The sports icon revealed his real name is Hussein Abdi Kahin and left his native Somalia as a boy when his mother sent him and his twin brother Hassan to live with an uncle in Djibouti.
Mo’s move to the neighboring country came after his father was killed in the civil war, leaving his family devastated and his wife fearing for the safety of their children.
The long-distance champion was then brought to the UK under a false identity, while the real Mo Farah stayed in Somalia and never made it to the UK.
The startling revelations are made in a BBC documentary that raises as many questions about his past as it answers.
Sir Mo tells the audience, “The truth is, I’m not who you think I am. And now, whatever it takes, I need to tell my true story.”
The biggest question is whether he has put his British citizenship at risk by revealing the truth about his identity.
Olympic legend Sir Mo Farah has revealed he was taken to the UK when he was just nine
“Most people know me as Mo Farah, but that’s not my name or it’s not,” he explained. “Despite what I have said in the past, my parents have never lived in the UK. When I was four, my dad died in the Civil War – we were torn apart as a family.
“I feel like I’ve always had that personal thing that I could never be myself and tell what really happened.”
After hiding the truth for 30 years, he says he can’t do it anymore. “I want to feel normal, not like you’re holding on to something.”
Moe, now 39, was brought in using fake Visa documents to work as a “domestic worker” for a family with young children.
The woman who brought him pretended to be his mother, telling him not to talk during a trip through airports in 1993. He realized he had taken another boy’s place when the man meeting her wondered where on earth his son was.
“He was her husband and their family name was Farah. He was waiting for them and his eldest son Mohammed. Then I realized that I had taken the place of Mohammed.”
The sports icon revealed that his real name is Hussein Abdi Kahin
When they got back to the house, she pulled out the contact details of his only British relative. “That’s when I knew I was in trouble,” Moe recalls.
The woman, who did not respond to requests to appear in the documentary, threatened him not to let him tell anyone the truth.
“When I wanted food in my mouth, my job was to take care of the kids, shower them, cook for them, clean for them, and she said, ‘If you ever want to see your family again, don’t say anything, otherwise they will take you away’. Often I would just lock myself in the bathroom and cry.”
After being kept out of school for two years, he was eventually allowed to attend Feltham Community College when he was 11. He struggled to speak English and his tutor Sarah Rennie recalls his “incredible behavioral difficulties”.
She explains: “We needed to speak to someone, but Mo’s family never showed up. He went to school, he was unkempt, he was not looked after, and we were getting more and more worried.”
Moe said he was “scared” and so the only way he could cope was to go outside and run.
His PE teacher, Alan Watkinson, immediately recognized his talent. “In every race we entered him in, he almost always won, and at a long distance. So it wasn’t hard to notice, he laughs.
Physical education teacher Alan Watkinson immediately recognized his talent
Mo had finally found someone he could trust. “Mo told me that he was not the son of the man he lived with – that his name was not Mohamed Farah, that he had been removed from his family, that he had been given a new identity and brought here to do work and chores. . It was obviously quite a shocking revelation to hear that,” Alan said.
Social services were involved and Mo was lucky – Kinsey, the mother of a Somali schoolboy, agreed to take him in and he lived happily with his family for seven years. It turns out that Kinsey was the sister of the man who met him at the airport – Mohammed Farah’s real father.
Alan recalls this period as heralding a “remarkable transformation”. “We used to have good runners, but the progress has been stratospheric.”
At the age of 14, when he was selected to participate in English schools in Latvia, it turned out that he did not have the necessary documents to travel abroad. Alan set about getting him British citizenship, and shows Mo a box of documents he’s kept with him ever since. “We just bombed them,” he explains.
Speaking 22 years later, Mo doesn’t want to get his former PE teacher into trouble, but Alan is determined. “When you go through the social services process, you end up as Mohammed Farah. In my opinion, at that time the state recognized you as Mohammed Farah. I don’t think either I or the school did anything wrong.”
But after deciding to take legal advice, Mo was shocked to learn that his application for British citizenship had been “obtained by fraud or misrepresentation” in the eyes of the law – meaning he could be stripped of his British citizenship, although this risk is mitigated by the fact that he was taken to the UK as a child and then he told social services what happened.
Moe, now 39, was brought in using fake Visa documents to work as a ‘domestic servant’
Mo’s wife Tanya, who first met him at school, says she only learned the truth when they were preparing to marry in 2010. to his story, she explained.
Like millions of others, Tanya believed the version of Mo’s life he told in his autobiography – Twin Ambitions – that he was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and came to the UK as a young man with his mum and two brothers to live with his father.
Tanya says she was “surprised” to learn the truth. She says the big question – still unanswered by the end of the documentary – is WHY he was replaced with the real Moe. “To me, that’s the $64,000 question.”
In search of more answers, Mo travels to Somaliland to visit his real mother, Aisha, who he reconnected with as a teenager after she sent him her phone number.
Aisha didn’t know for years that Mo was taken to live in the UK after his father, Abdi, was killed by a bazooka shrapnel while tending his cattle. “When I heard it, I wanted to throw the phone on the floor and move to him because of all the joy I felt,” she says in the film.
Aisha said she sent him and Hassan to Djibouti for their own safety. “We lived in a place where there was nothing, cattle and ruined land. We all thought we were dying. Boom, boom, boom was all we heard. I have sent you to your uncle so that you may have something.’ She claims she has no idea why he ended up in the UK.
“No one told me. I lost touch with you. We had no telephones, no roads, nothing. There was nothing here. The land was laid waste.”
She says she has no idea who the real Mo Farah is and advises him to tell the world the truth. “You were given a name that was not yours and sent to England, a country you knew nothing about. It is important that you tell your story. Lying is a sin.”
Mo is happy. “When I told them I was taking a risk to do it, they said, ‘It’s true.’ It is what it is, you are who you are, there’s no denying that.’
The shack he lived in with his uncle in Djibouti now belongs to someone else, but visiting it brings back memories of how it was taken. “The hardest thing is admitting to myself that someone from my family could have had something to do with my trafficking,” he admits.
He learned from human trafficking expert Kate Garbers that there are between 10,000 and 100,000 victims of human trafficking in the UK. She tells him he is “incredibly brave” for sharing his story. “Your speech will hopefully give people an idea of what slavery and human trafficking is and who it can happen to.”
Looking back on his life filled with sporting victories, Mo can’t help but be pleased with how his life has turned out. “It just shows how lucky I am. So many moments in my life where things could have gone one way or another. But what really saved me, what made me different, was that I could run.”
PE teacher Alan says he was overcome with emotion watching Mo at the 2012 Olympics, where he won his first ‘double’ gold. “I was devastated, I cried. I knew the story and it was just a crazy, ridiculous story that couldn’t be made up. It was difficult to realize the scale of this.”
After those victories, which he repeated in Rio in 2016, Mo appeared on Jonathan Ross and spoke of his excitement at being met from the plane by his dad – a story he would later record in his autobiography.
“It’s not because you want to lie, it’s because you’re protecting yourself,” he explains. “It’s only later that you realize you can let things out and tell how it happened.”
Farah’s mother sent him and his twin brother Hassan (left) to live with an uncle in Djibouti
When producers track down Kinsey, he hopes she can provide more answers as the daughter-in-law of the woman who smuggled him in.
But Kinsey says she was told Mo was brought to the UK because he was an orphan. She told social services that she was his aunt because she saw that he was unhappy and being mistreated. “I’m not your aunt, but you have my brother’s name,” she explained to Moe. “And you’re a child, you need someone to protect you.”
She then says she can call her nephew, the real Mo Farah, who has never been to the UK. Speaking to him, Mo discovers that his alter ego supports Arsenal and is not interested in running for office. “I just want to say thank you so much – I used your name. I came here as a child and it was hard, hard for me.”
Smiling and telling Mo that he’d like to visit the UK, the real Mo says, “It’s okay, you’re still my brother.”
An excited Mo states, “I feel like something has been lifted off my shoulders. But I don’t know how everyone will see it.”
He plans to stick with Mo Farah’s name and has sought legal advice on how to deal with the Home Office after the film finished.
Producers have been unable to contact Kinsey’s brother, who met him from the plane, or any family members in Djibouti.
- The Real Mo Farah, BBC One, 9pm, Wednesday 13 July.