Politicians and celebrities on Tuesday praised four-time Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah as “truly inspirational” and a “great Briton” after he revealed he was trafficked into the UK as a child, only to be saved by his PE teacher Alan Watkinson.
Sir Mo, 39, told BBC documentary The Real Mo Farah how he was brought to Britain from Somalia illegally under the name of another child called Mohamed Farah after his father was killed in the civil war.
He said he thought he was going to Europe to live with relatives and recalled going through a UK passport check at the age of 9.
“I had all the contact details for my relative and once we got to her house, the lady took it off me and right in front of me ripped them up and put it in the bin, and at that moment I knew I was in trouble,” he said.
Sir Mo eventually told his PE teacher Alan Watkinson the truth and moved to live with his friend's mother, Kinsi, who “really took great care” of him, and he stayed with her for seven years.
“Mo told me he wasn’t the son of the person he was living with — that his name wasn’t Mohamed Farah, [and that] he was removed from his family, that he was given a new identity and brought here to do jobs and chores. That was quite shocking to hear,” Mr Watkinson said in the documentary.
Sir Mo's unburdening precipitated a “remarkable transformation”, according to Mr Watkinson.
“We’d had good runners before but the progress from there was stratospheric,” he said.
It was the redoubtable Mr Watkinson who applied for Sir Mo's British citizenship, which he described as a “long process”, and on July 25, 2000, Sir Mo secured it.
“We just bombarded them,” Mr Watkinson told the filmmakers, who said his actions were fully justified, despite knowing the young athlete was not Mohamed Farah.
“When you went through the process of social services, you stayed as Mohamed Farah. To my mind, at that point, the state have recognised you as Mohamed Farah. I don’t think either I or the school did anything wrong.
The UK Home Office on Tuesday made it clear it agreed with Mr Watkinson, confirming “no action whatsoever will be taken against Sir Mo.”
Praise abounds for 'truly inspirational' Mo Farah
Prominent figures from across the UK were also quick to endorse Sir Mo and to laud his courage and determination.
UK Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi called him a “truly inspirational” role model.
Asked how it made him feel reading Sir Mo's story, the Tory leadership hopeful told BBC Breakfast: “Heartbroken, painful. I was very lucky that I had my parents with me when we fled Iraq.
“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. 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.”
Similarly, London mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted his support for the Olympian.
“Everything Sir Mo has survived proves he's not only one of our greatest Olympians but a truly great Briton.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Yvette Cooper tweeted: “This is incredible bravery.
“Unimaginable what @Mo_Farah has been through. Child trafficking is the worst of crimes.
“His courage & strength in speaking out must be an urgent spur for much stronger action to help all those affected & to stop this terrible crime.”
Lisa Nandy, shadow secretary of state for levelling up, said the athlete's decision to speak out could be a “gamechanger”.
“I spent a decade working with children who were trafficked to the UK and everything about this is heartbreaking,” she wrote.
“But it could also be a gamechanger so thank you @Mo_Farah for having the courage to speak out.”
Celebrities including Judi Love and David Baddiel also voiced their support for the athlete, describing him as a “hero” who has made people “proud to be British”.
Comedian Baddiel shared a picture of the pair, writing: “Whether he's Sir Mo Farah or Hussein Abdi Kahin he's a hero.”
Comedian and presenter Love added: “You just never know what someone is carrying.”
Following the shock announcement, Sir Mo said he was “really proud” of the documentary, which enabled him to “address and learn more” about his past and his journey to Britain.
The Real Mo Farah will air at 6am UK time on BBC iPlayer, and at 9pm on BBC One, on July 13.