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In 'hugely moving' documentary, Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah reveals that he was trafficked to the U.K.

When Farah was nine years old, he was trafficked to the U.K. by strangers to work as a domestic servant

Watch The Real Mo Farah on CBC and CBC Gem

Mo Farah was trafficked to the U.K. by strangers to work as a domestic servant when he was nine years old. (Andy Boag / Red Bull Studios)

Watch The Real Mo Farah on The Passionate Eye: Friday, October 14 at 9 p.m. Now streaming on CBC Gem. 

Sir Mo Farah is a national treasure in the U.K. 

The Somalia-born hero of the 2012 London Olympics — he won gold in both the 5,000- and 10,000-metre races — is one of the most accomplished athletes in British history. In 2017, Queen Elizabeth knighted Farah for his service to sports.

For most of Farah's time in the spotlight, fans believed that he had arrived in the U.K. with his family as a refugee. That's the story he told on talk shows and in his 2013 autobiography, Twin Ambitions. 

Mo Farah, seen here at the British athletics championships in 2021, represented Britain at three straight Summer Olympics in 2008, 2012 and 2016. (Molly Darlington/Action Images via Reuters)

But that wasn't the truth. 

In a 2022 documentary, Farah reveals that strangers trafficked him to the U.K. to work as a domestic servant when he was just nine years old. His own mother says she didn't even know he'd been removed from his uncle's home in Djibouti, where he'd been sent to live after his father was killed in Somalia's civil war.

Five-star reviews call the documentary 'jaw-dropping' and say it leaves viewers 'bewildered at the real story of his life'

The Real Mo Farah premiered on the BBC on July 13, 2022, to wide acclaim. The Guardian gave the film a five-star review, calling it "beautifully made and often heartbreaking" and "hugely moving." 

The Independent also rated the film five stars. "This jaw-dropping documentary will leave you bruised and bewildered," Sean O'Grady wrote. "Revelation after revelation, detail after detail and with one searing emotional confession leading to yet another, the viewer is left punchdrunk, bewildered at the real story of his life." 

Reviewing the documentary for the i, a British morning paper, Emily Baker wrote: "This was a delicate, purposeful film which told an extraordinary story without sensationalism. While it was an intensely personal journey for Farah, it also spoke volumes about the trauma carried by victims of domestic servitude and trafficking."

Calls to a trafficking helpline spiked after the documentary aired in the U.K.

After the documentary aired on the BBC, anti-slavery charity Unseen UK reported a 20 per cent increase in calls to its modern slavery and exploitation helpline.

Charity director Justine Carter told BBC News that some callers said hearing Farah's story prompted them to reach out.

"People feel very alone and isolated when they're in that situation themselves, so knowing that somebody else has been a victim of this type of crime — and is still suffering from all of the experiences that they've had as a child — I think is really crucial," she said.

Farah retraces his life in search of answers

The Real Mo Farah follows Farah as he explores his own extraordinary story and tries to piece together how he ended up being trafficked to the U.K. 

He visits the West London school where his physical education teacher identified him as a phenomenal young athlete — but wondered what was going on at home. 

In the documentary, Farah retraces his life in search of answers. His first stop is the school where he stood out as a gifted athlete. Here, Farah reviews his student file with his wife (and former classmate) Tania Nell. (Andy Boag / Red Bull Studios)

He travels back to his family's village in Somaliland to ask his mother and twin brother what they know about the traumatic childhood event that changed his life forever.

And finally, he turns to the Somali community in London, hoping that they can help him understand the mystery at the heart of his life. 

Watch The Real Mo Farah on The Passionate Eye: Friday, October 14 at 9 p.m.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa Caldwell is a producer, writer and editor with CBC Docs in Toronto.

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