Mohamed Sbihi hopes his selection as the first practising Muslim to carry the Union Jack at an Olympic Games opening ceremony will inspire more children who share his faith to take up sport.
Sbihi, who won rowing gold in the men’s coxless fours in Rio will share the honour with defending sailing champion Hannah Mills following a directive by the International Olympic Committee in March.
In 2012 the 33-year-old Sbihi became Britain’s first Muslim rower to compete at an Olympics, forgoing Ramadan via an approved charitable avenue that saw him donate 1,800 meals to poor families in Morocco.
Sbihi said: “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.
“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.”
Sbihi, who was talent-spotted for his sport at the age of 15, has direct experience of the power of role models having had first-hand experience of the rise of Mo Farah who trained at St Mary’s University in Twickenham where Sbihi studied for a sports scholarship.
“I hope this will have the impact I would like, but this team has been incredibly diverse and inclusive for a long time – this isn’t an overnight thing,” added Sbihi.
“I was fortunate enough to have been in London and Rio when Mo (Farah) won his medals, and to see that achievement from a refugee who came to the country very young and who is a practising Muslim, and is somebody I saw around my university when I was a student, it’s amazing to be the first.”
Mills, 33, won sailing gold in 2016 in the women’s 470 class alongside Saskia Clark, and will defend the title in Tokyo with a new team-mate, Eilidh McIntyre.
She said: “To be asked to carry the flag for Team GB at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games is not a sentence I ever thought I’d say.
“When (Chef de Mission) Mark (England) told me I had been chosen, it was completely overwhelming and when I had a moment to think about what it meant I got pretty emotional.
“It is the greatest honour in my career and I hope more than ever before that this Games can lift our country and deliver some incredible sporting moments to inspire the nation.”
Mills and Sbihi follow in the footsteps of Sir Andy Murray, who carried the flag at the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics in 2016.
They will each carry a flag at the front of a Team GB delegation of under 30 athletes in a virtually empty Olympic Stadium.
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