The gold medal-winning rower Mohamed Sbihi will make history on Friday 23 July 2021, as the first Muslim to carry the British flag at the Olympics opening ceremony, a role he will share with another gold medalist sailor Hannah Mills, an environmental warrior.
Mohamed Sbihi is a practising Muslim with a Moroccan father and a British mother. A true trailblazer, he won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics in the men’s four and bronze in the men’s eight in London.
He hopes that his selection to carry the Union Jack at an Olympic Games opening ceremony will inspire more children who share his faith to take up the sport.
“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,” expressed Mr Sbihi.
Highlighting the significance of showcasing the diversity within the sporting realm, Sbihi shared his delight of observing the achievements of British long-runner Mo Farah, noting the obstacles he overcame on and off the track.
“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 Mr Sbihi.
Tokyo 2020 is set to be the first gender-balance ceremony, with each nation allowed to select a male and female athlete to carry its flag for the Games.
Sbihi will be accompanied by sailor Hannah Mills, who won gold at Rio 2016 and silver at London 2012. She is also a campaigner for clean oceans and the eradication of single-use plastic in sport.
“Every single beach, marina and harbour that I’ve sailed in is littered with plastic. That’s opened the gateway for me into the world of sustainability. I want to use my sporting background, networks and profile to raise awareness, change behaviour and influence others on environmental issues,” explained Ms Mills.
Mills launched the Big Plastic Pledge in 2019, a global campaign supported by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the UN Clean Seas initiative, that calls on athletes and sports fans to reduce plastic in their daily lives by using refillable water bottles, refusing plastic packaging and encouraging sports clubs to find alternatives to single-use plastic.
Two role models within their sporting fields, both Mills and Sbihi hope that their selection may help to inspire and usher people of all ages and backgrounds to pursue their sports.
“It is such an honour. It is an iconic moment within the Olympic movement – people remember those images…so it is something I am incredibly proud of, ” exclaimed Mr Sbihi.