Britain's first Muslim flag-bearer seeks to add to his medal haul

British rower of Moroccan descent Mohamed Sbihi made history at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics and on Friday he will be hoping to win a medal
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AP/ PETR DAVID JOSEK  -   Hannah Mills and Mohamed Karim Sbihi representing the British team at the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

There is much more to the Olympic Games than sport. Every four years, dozens of representatives from hundreds of countries come together with a single goal: to compete in as many disciplines as possible. However, the Olympics are also a pretext for getting to know the realities of the different countries in depth through the figures of their sportsmen and women.

Britain's Mohamed Karim Sbihi is a case in point. The 33-year-old rower took over from Andy Murray in Rio and became the first Muslim flag bearer for the British delegation at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. "To know that I am the first person of Muslim faith to have this role and this duty is a very proud moment," he said after making history. She was accompanied in her role by well-known sailor Hannah Mills.

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AFP/ HANNAH MCKAY - Hannah Mills and Mohamed Karim Sbihi representing the British team at the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Sbihi himself and the rest of the British team qualified for the final in the men's coxless eight on Tuesday. This Friday, the rower will have the chance to add to his medal haul and win another Olympic medal, adding to his gold in the coxless four at Rio 2016 and a bronze in the men's coxless eight at London 2012.

At just 24, Sbihi had been the first Muslim rower to represent Great Britain at the Olympics. It was then that he recognised the difficulties of training and competing at the highest level while fasting during the month of Ramadan. This problem would continue to accompany him throughout his career. According to Middle East Eye, Sbihi eventually agreed with an imam to donate 1,800 meals to poor families in Tangier in return for the missed fasting days.

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PHOTO - Hannah Mills and Mohamed Karim Sbihi representing the British team at the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

However, Sbihi surprised everyone at the London Olympics by winning his first Olympic medal. It would not be his last, as he would go on to win three consecutive gold medals at successive World Championships. From there, Sbihi would return to the Rio Olympics to win his first Olympic gold in the coxless fours. These achievements would lead to him being awarded the MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), the UK's highest civilian order of chivalry, in 2017.

Born to a Moroccan immigrant father and an English mother, Sbihi was born on the outskirts of London. From there he travelled every summer to Tangier, his father's hometown. "Moe can speak a dialect of Arabic and regularly visits his family in Tangier," the official British rowing website reports.

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AFP/ FRANK FIFE - Hannah Mills and Mohamed Karim Sbihi representing the British team at the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

At the age of 15 he started rowing after being spotted by a scout to join the British World Class Start programme. He tried his hand at football and tennis before being identified as a potential rowing champion. Since then, his training has been focused on becoming an Olympic champion.

"We need more representation and, hopefully, this starts the process of getting young Muslims involved in all kinds of sports," Sbihi said. Until then, the rower used the abbreviation of his name, Moe, to compete. Since the Tokyo Olympics, Sbihi has decided to bury his old nickname and register under his full name, Mohamed. 

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REUTERS/  HANNAH MCKAY - Hannah Mills and Mohamed Karim Sbihi representing the British team at the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

In doing so, he aims to raise the profile of young people of foreign descent who want to make the British Olympic team, in the same way that he was inspired by Somali-born long-distance runner Mo Farah. "I was in London and Rio to see Mo Farah win his medals as a refugee who came to the country very young and as a practising Muslim. That was inspiring," said the rower.