Gold medal-winning rower Mohamed Sbihi will be the first Muslim to carry the British flag at an Olympics opening ceremony.
British-Moroccan Sbihi will be joined by gold medal-winning sailor Hannah Mills. It will be the first time two flag bearers have led out their national team at the Games.
Sbihi, who won his gold medal in the men’s coxless fours in the team’s blue riband boat at Rio 2016 and bronze in the men’s eight at London 2012, said he hoped his selection would inspire Muslim children.
“To be the first person of Muslim faith to have this role is a very proud moment. Hopefully this will help start the process of getting young Muslim kids involved in different kinds of sports, especially rowing,” said Sbihi.
“I have always maintained that I was just an average kid who got lucky and got selected to be a rower. And here I am 18 years later with the honour of being flag bearer.”
It is not the first time Sbihi has made history. In 2012 the 33-year-old became Britain’s first Muslim rower to compete at an Olympics.
Sbihi, whose father was a barber and whose mother worked at Marks & Spencer, was talent-spotted at the age of 15 by the World Class Start initiative. In a previous interview with The National, Sbihi described himself as a “normal kid who went to a normal [state] school” and he has championed greater diversity in a sport he said is traditionally associated with “middle-class, white, posh” people.
“What we want to try to do as a sport is increase participation, increase levels of success for those who are of different backgrounds,” Sbihi told The National earlier this year.
Following Thursday’s announcement, Sbihi said he hoped his selection would have the impact he would like, noting that his team had been “incredibly diverse and inclusive for a long time”.
Sbihi previously told The National that his participation in the Tokyo Games, his third consecutive Olympics, would probably be his last.
Mills, who won sailing gold in 2016 in the women's 470 class alongside Saskia Clark, will defend the title in Tokyo with new teammate Eilidh McIntyre.
Sbihi and Mills will each carry a flag at the front of a Team GB delegation of under 30 athletes, in a virtually empty Olympic Stadium. It follows a change in rules by the International Olympic Committee last year allowing for two flag bearers, one male and one female.