Mohamed Sbihi has spoken of the ‘huge honour’ of being the first Muslim to carry the Union flag at an Olympic Games.
The Londoner, 33, will lead out Team GB with sailor Hannah Mills at today’s opening ceremony and is hoping his presence can inspire a generation of Muslim youngsters to follow his lead.
‘It’s a huge honour,’ said Sbihi, who won gold in the men’s four at Rio 2016. ‘To know I’m the first person of Muslim faith to have the role, it’s a very proud moment.
Moe Sbihi is honoured to be the first Muslim to be a Team GB Olympic flagbearer in Tokyo
Sbihi will carry the flag alongside Team GB sailor Hannah Mills in Friday’s opening ceremony
‘I’ve always said we want more Muslims representing our country and hopefully this will start that process of getting young Muslim kids involved in all different types of sports, especially rowing. I’ve always maintained I’m an average kid who got lucky and here I am with the honour of being a flagbearer.’
Sbihi added he was inspired by fellow Muslim Mo Farah. ‘I was in London and Rio to see Mo win his gold medals as a refugee, it was an amazing achievement,’ he said.
Sbihi, born in Kingston-upon-Thames to a British mother and Moroccan father, added that he had cleared his presence at the ceremony with his crew members.
Only 30 Team GB athletes, from six different sports, out of 376 are expected to attend, amid concerns over becoming infected or falling foul of contact-trace rules.
Sbihi has revealed he was inspired by fellow Muslim Mo Farah (above) during his career
6ft 8in rower Sbihi (far left) won gold with the coxless four in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
‘I had to briefly run it by my crew,’ he said. ‘I don’t think rowers have walked (in the ceremony) for a long time. But their reaction summed up mine. I was speechless when I was told. I thought I was about to be told off! It’s been incredibly exciting.’
Cardiff-born Mills, 33, will be defending her 470 title alongside Eilidh McIntyre in the Japanese capital. She will become the first female sailor to carry the Union flag.
‘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,’ she said. ‘When 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 has described being chosen as Team GB flagbearer as the ‘biggest honour’ of her career
There may, though, be a challenge given that there is only one flag and Sbihi stands at 6ft 8in — while Mills is 5ft 2in. ‘We’ve not really thought about the logistics,’ Mills joked.
In a break with tradition, the International Olympic Committee confirmed in March last year that each nation could nominate one male and one female as flagbearers.
England, Team GB’s chef de mission, said: ‘Having spoken to Hannah and Moe, it was clear to see what this honour meant to them.
‘They embody the values of Team GB and they are thoroughly deserving of this great honour. Hannah and Moe have already created multiple Olympic memories and I have no doubt they will add to these in Tokyo over the next 16 days.’