Somalia-born runner Mohamed Abdi Jama Farah—known as Mo Farah—won 10 gold medals (four Olympic and six World titles) for being the second man in history to win long-distance doubles at successive Olympics and World Championships.
But he won much more than that.
He won a platform to tell his story of forced servitude and how he was trafficked to Britain as a child and forced to look after other children.
Full details of his experience can be seen in a new documentary produced by the BBC and Red Bull Studios where he reveals how as a boy of 8 or 9 he was separated from his family and trafficked from neighboring Djibouti to the U.K. under a new name.
Farah was born in present-day Somaliland, a territory that demanded independence from the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia. When he left Africa, he thought he was going to Europe to live with relatives and had a piece of paper with the contact details. But the woman he ended up with tore up his papers and took him to an apartment in west London where he was forced to care for her children.
Farah said his fortunes in Britain changed when he was finally allowed to attend school. A teacher who was interviewed for the documentary recalled a 12-year-old boy who appeared unkempt and uncared for, was “emotionally and culturally alienated” and spoke little English.
Farah eventually told his story to a physical education instructor. The teacher contacted local officials, who arranged for a Somali family to take him in as a foster child. He soon blossomed on the track.
Anti-slavery advocates say Farah is the most prominent person to come forward as a victim of modern-day slavery, a crime that is often hidden because it occurs behind closed doors and inflicts such trauma on its victims.
Ahmed Dini, who runs the Mogadishu-based children’s rights group Peace-Line, expressed sorrow for Farah’s troubled childhood. “It has become evident that there are many contributing factors to child trafficking, such as poverty, a lack of adequate education, and insufficient security.”