Mo Farah’s double double: Bringing us all closer together
Mo Farah arguably just became the UK’s greatest ever Olympian. When he led the field across the line on Sunday, he completed a sensational back-to-back double – winning both 5,000 and 10,000 metre golds at London 2012 and Rio 2016. Of course, ‘greatest ever’ acclamations are always contestable. Stars of cycling, rowing and sailing still stand above him on Team GB’s table of medal winners. And he’s not the first athlete to complete this particular double-double. Finland’s Lasse Arturri Virén did so at Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976 – he too fell on the way to one of those golds.
Still, Mo has won umpteen senior international titles and plainly deserves all the praise that will surely once more come his way.
Joyous memories of London 2012
Four years ago in London, Mo won the first of his Olympic golds on what immediately became known as ‘Super Saturday’. In the space of 45 minutes that day, Team GB gained three golds in the Olympic stadium after earlier winning golds in rowing and cycling.
Then, the Olympics appeared to unite the country in celebration – not merely of sporting success, but also of its cultural and ethnic diversity. Mo’s success was at the heart of that.
This time around, the success of Mo – and our other athletes – is once again a source of joy and pride for many.
But this is also a time of news dominated by increased reports of hate crime, negative attitudes to immigration and a global refugee emergency in response to which many rich countries are not taking their fair share of responsibility. Mo’s success offers the opportunity for some greater reflection than perhaps was possible amidst the understandable euphoria of then hosting the Olympics. The wider context demands it.
Mo was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1983; but his father was born in the UK. Although Mo was not a refugee, he left Somalia to first Djibouti and later London, just as Mohamed Siad Barre’s long rule was becoming increasingly authoritarian and the country was descending into civil war.
Political instability and conflict have dogged this region ever since, and forced many Somalis to flee. Among those who’ve fled to Europe, many have come to the UK to join a Somali diaspora that first began settling here in the late nineteenth century.
But it is Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen that have received and continue to host by far the larger number of people from what is one of the world’s largest and most protracted refugee migrations.
Shortly after Mo arrived in the UK, Kenya opened the Dadaab camp in 1992. Somali refugees have been living there ever since. It is now the world’s largest refugee camp with around 350,000 residents, nearly all of whom are Somali – several born in the camp, never having seen their homeland. Some 50,000 of them are children under the age of four.
Kenya has become increasingly disgruntled at its disproportionate and growing share of responsibility for hosting refugees – it is also host to many people forced to flee South Sudan’s escalating conflict. Kenya now threatens to close Dadaab citing the fact that other, richer countries like the UK have failed to take their fair share of refugees.
This risks a further enforced displacement of refugees in a region that hosts far more refugees than does Europe (excluding Turkey). Shamefully, most European and other richer countries – including the UK – continue to quibble and shirk rather than show willingness to share responsibility with countries like Kenya.
Resettlement places remain pitifully low, as many countries seek to build yet more barriers to refugees, trapping many in situations lacking hope or security and from which smugglers continue to profit by offering the only means of escape.
Mo came to the UK aged eight. At that time, he spoke no English. Coming to the UK meant separation from his twin brother and best friend, Hassan, who was left behind due to illness. It was 12 years before they were to see each other again.
Two decades later Mo's London Olympics double was a British first. His is an extraordinary story of aspiration, determination and sacrifice – including long periods of training at altitude in Kenya and Ethiopia away from his wife and children.
Many similar themes play themselves out in the ongoing story of refugees, albeit an imbalance of tragedy over triumph: Dangerous – all too often fatal – journeys because safe, legal routes are not available. Years of family separation, even after being recognised as a refugee and granted asylum. And determination – to find a safe place to rebuild lives and provide a future for one’s children.
But there’s more to take from the Mo Farah story. While his pride in being British shines through, he’s also proud to be Somali. He has – as he puts it in his autobiography – “moved from one culture to another”. This has enriched his own identity and in turn that of so many of his fellow citizens and residents of this island.
So the occasion of Mo’s outstanding success provides not merely the opportunity to recall that our country’s past, present and future is not and cannot be one of mere isolation from the rest of the world. It is an upbeat reminder that we are lucky it is not. With our world in the grip of a refugee emergency, the sooner we acknowledge this, the better.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.