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Mo Farah v Haile Gebrselassie: row, recriminations and what next?

The Guardian logo The Guardian 25/04/2019 Sean Ingle
Haile Gebrselassie, Mo Farah are posing for a picture: Mo Farah (right) went public with his grievances after telling Haile Gebrselassie via text: ‘Know that I am not responsible for what I say during the press conference in London’. © AFP/Getty Images Mo Farah (right) went public with his grievances after telling Haile Gebrselassie via text: ‘Know that I am not responsible for what I say during the press conference in London’.

How did the row start?

A sedate Wednesday morning press conference for this weekend’s London marathon appeared to be over when Mo Farah suddenly raised his hand and began to speak. Clearly Britain’s four-time Olympic champion had something to get off his chest. “Training has gone well, and everything else,” he said, “but there was a slight problem with my hotel in Ethiopia.”

It soon turned to be anything but slight, with Farah claiming that someone had stolen £2,600 in four different currencies, a treasured Tag watch given to him by his wife Tania, and two mobile phones from a locked bag in his room on his birthday in late March.

To add further spice to the story, Farah had been staying at the Yaya Africa Athletics Village, which is owned by the Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie. And – intriguingly – it was clear that Farah blamed Gebrselassie for not doing more to help him after he had been robbed.

While a senior representative from the PR agency Freud’s was in the room, some close to Farah insist that he did not want any help with spinning the story – rather he was genuinely appalled at how he had been treated and felt he should speak out.

Watch: Farah's outrage after watch and cash stolen (Sky Sports)

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What happened next?

After the press conference Farah then spoke to a small number of British journalists, showing them pictures of the bag that he said had been broken into and claiming Gebrselassie had ignored multiple messages about the theft.

After that Farah further surprised the reporters by revealing he had sent a text to the Ethiopian in which he threatened to reveal the story at the London marathon.

“I want to inform you that I’m disappointed you have not made any effort to find my stolen money, and especially my watch,” the text, which has been seen by the Guardian, read. “I have tried to contact you by telephone several times. Know that I am not responsible for what I say during the press conference in London and what influence it will have on your personality and your business. Greetings, Sir Mo.”

It was not exactly PR 101 – and it soon got a feisty response from Gebrselassie, who – in an email to a number of African journalists that soon went on social media – accused the British runner of assault, blackmail and “disgraceful conduct”.

NEW DELHI, INDIA FEBRUARY 24: Ethiopian long-distance track and road running athlete Haile Gebrselassie, gestures during a press conference in New Delhi. (Photo by K Asif/India Today Group/Getty Images) © Getty NEW DELHI, INDIA FEBRUARY 24: Ethiopian long-distance track and road running athlete Haile Gebrselassie, gestures during a press conference in New Delhi. (Photo by K Asif/India Today Group/Getty Images)

What does Gebrselassie claim?

The Ethiopian accused Farah and his entourage of “multiple reports of disgraceful conduct” while staying in his hotel in Addis Ababa. He added that the British star had not paid his $3,000 hotel bill, despite a 50% discount, and also claimed that Farah was reported to the police for attacking an athlete in his hotel gym, a charge that he said was later dropped.

A spokesperson for Farah said that he was “disappointed” with Gebrselassie’s response and said he “disputed all of these claims which are an effort to distract from the situation, where members of his hotel staff used a room key and stole money and items from Mo Farah’s room.”

The spokesperson said that police reports had confirmed the incident and that the hotel had admitted responsibility. “The hotel even offered to pay Mo the amount stolen, only to withdraw the offer when he prematurely left the hotel and moved to other accommodation, due to security concerns,” she said.

Farah’s spokesperson was asked specifically about the attack claim. “The statement says Mo disputes the allegations made in the statement,” she replied.

Athletics - London Marathon Preview Press Conference - The Tower Hotel, London, Britain - April 24, 2019   Great Britain's Mo Farah during the press conference   Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs © Reuters Athletics - London Marathon Preview Press Conference - The Tower Hotel, London, Britain - April 24, 2019 Great Britain's Mo Farah during the press conference Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs

And the row escalated further on Thursday?

Indeed. During the morning the Guardian published an exclusive interview with Gebrselassie in which he claimed Farah had “punched and kicked a husband and his wife” during what he claimed was an unprovoked attack while he stayed at his hotel in Ethiopia.

“There were lots of witnesses. He cannot deny it because there was enough people inside the gym who saw the action.”

Gebrselassie also claimed he had saved Farah from being taken into custody by begging the police not to act. “I talked to the police and said: ‘This is Mo Farah, he is a big athlete, he is an international name.’ Leave him.

“The police said: ‘Haile, why are you saying like this? This is a criminal.’ I said: ‘Please, please please.’ He escaped the police without a case. He left Ethiopia without any questioning. And finally, he apologised for the attack – ‘OK, no problem, I was very angry, blah blah blah.’ I have always taken care of him in different ways. But he treated us the wrong way.”

Athletics - London Marathon Preview Press Conference - The Tower Hotel, London, Britain - April 24, 2019   Great Britain's Mo Farah poses ahead of the London Marathon   Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs © Reuters Athletics - London Marathon Preview Press Conference - The Tower Hotel, London, Britain - April 24, 2019 Great Britain's Mo Farah poses ahead of the London Marathon Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs

What is Farah’s response to these claims?

Farah has not spoken directly about the alleged attack at the gym. However his coach Gary Lough, who witnessed the fracas, insists that Gebrselassie’s account was one-sided and unfair.

He told the Guardian that Farah was acting in self defence after an Ethiopian male athlete appeared to threaten Farah’s training partner – and the athlete’s wife came at him holding dumbbells.

“The Ethiopian athlete then moved and looked like he was about to attack Farah’s training partner Bashir Abdi – so Mo tried to protect his friend by swinging a punch,” Lough said. He also said that when the scuffle ensued, Farah accidentally struck the wife of the Ethiopian athlete on the arm. The wife then came at Farah holding weights and dumbbells.

So what happens now?

Farah will run in Sunday’s London marathon, where he faces Eliud Kipchoge, the greatest runner over 26.2 miles in history. Meanwhile numerous newspapers are said to be in Addis looking to see whether there is yet more to come out on the story.

Gallery: Sporting Spats: When things turn sour between stars (ReadSport)


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