Farah v Gebrselassie: Theft, assault and a bitter row

Q&A: How did the argument start? What are the details? And what is going to happen now?

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’. Photograph: Simon Maina/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’. Photograph: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

 

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 €3,000 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.

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.

The Yaya Village hotel owned by the retired distance-running great Haile Gebrselassie, outside Addis Ababa, where Farah was staying. Photo: Elias Meseret/AP Photo
The Yaya Village hotel owned by the retired distance-running great Haile Gebrselassie, outside Addis Ababa, where Farah was staying. Photo: Elias Meseret/AP Photo

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”.

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 per cent 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.

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.”

Farah poses during a photocall for the London marathon at Tower Bridge. Photo: Ben Stansall/Getty Images
Farah poses during a photocall for the London marathon at Tower Bridge. Photo: Ben Stansall/Getty Images

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 – ‘okay, 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.”

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.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.