Olympic hero Sir Mo Farah was last night sensationally accused of hitting a fellow athlete in the neck.
The altercation began after Sir Mo, 36, and his entourage accused an Ethiopian athlete and his wife of ‘spying’ on his training regime at a resort in Ethiopia two months ago.
Police were called after Sir Mo’s entourage allegedly insulted the couple and ‘a brawl erupted’.
Legendary Ethiopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie, 46, this week accused four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Mo of blackmail and said the British star attacked two athletes in the gym of Gebrselassie’s hotel in Addis Ababa.
Rivals: Sir Mo Farah (left) is embroiled in an extraordinary row with fellow athletics star Haile Gebrselassie (right, pictured together at the 2013 Great North Run in the North East)
The Mail can now reveal that one of the alleged victims was 10,000m runner Sisay Tsegaye, who claimed he was training his wife, Dagmawit Kibiru, 22, when they were accosted by furious members of Farah’s entourage.
The couple were accused of ‘spying’ and copying the star athlete’s training regime before the scene descended into violence. Tsegaye said: ‘In the middle of that, Mo hit me from behind on my neck. I was angry so a brawl erupted.’
But Sir Mo’s coach Gary Lough said his athlete acted in self-defence.
Lough told the London Evening Standard: ‘This guy comes over threateningly as if he’s going to attack (Abi) Bashir (Farah’s training partner) and Mo tries to defend Bashir and hits the other guy. The woman comes running and Mo turns round – not knowing who it is – and she got hit on the arm. She had two 5kg weights in her hands and was threatening to throw them at him.’
The tit-for-tat allegations came as Sir Mo said he had a watch, two phones and £2,600 in cash taken from his room at the resort on his birthday on March 23.
Runner Sisay Tsegaye (left picture, with his wife Dagmawit Kibiru) has alleged that Farah hit him during a brawl. The British runner is also accused of assaulting Chala Diriba (pictured right), the manager of the gymnasium, in February last year
Sir Mo has also been accused of assaulting Chala Diriba, the manager of the gymnasium, in February last year.
He claims Sir Mo accused him of ‘copying’ a weight-training routine, adding: ‘He began to push me and shove me, and then grabbed me around my neck.’ Sir Mo said the incident did not take place.
Last night, Gebrselassie made a further claim that his row with Sir Mo was over a controversial coach.
He claims Jama Aden, linked to a major doping investigation, was refused entry to his hotel – which caused the furore.
A spokesman for Farah said: ‘Jama Aden has never trained Mo’, adding: ‘Mo disputes Haile Gebrselassie’s claims. There was an incident at the gym… but it was categorically not of Mo’s making.’
Claims: Farah (pictured left in London this week, and right with his wife Tania) took aim at Gebrselassie after claiming he had cash, a watch and two phones stolen from a hotel owned by the Ethiopian athlete
Punch-up that’s left Mo Farah fighting to save his golden reputation: GUY ADAMS on lurid claims and counter-claims of brawls, theft and diva behaviour
High above Addis Ababa, amid hills covered with juniper trees and criss-crossed by orange dirt tracks, is a sort of Mecca for long-distance athletes called the Yaya Village Hotel.
Owned by Haile Gebrselassie, the double Olympic 10,000 metres gold-medallist whose achievements made him one of Ethiopia’s most famous men, it operates primarily as a high-altitude training centre for elite marathon runners.
The four-star hotel, nearly 9,000ft above sea level, has a swimming pool, extensive gym, physiotherapy and massage facilities, a steam room and sauna — and access to miles of challenging forest trails, plus a nearby all-weather racetrack.
For professionals who stay for weeks or even months, it provides an escape from the grind of ordinary domestic training, allowing them to focus on preparing their minds and bodies for the rigours of the global athletics circuit.
At least, that’s the idea.
Venue: The Yaya Africa Athletics Village where Farah was staying and where he alleges that hotel staff stole money and other items from his room
Yet in recent days the peace of Yaya Village has been rudely shattered by a series of incidents involving the British national treasure and regular hotel guest, Sir Mo Farah. The disputes, during which police were called twice, have led to at least five arrests and culminated yesterday when a bizarre, toxic public row erupted between the usually mild-mannered Sir Mo and Gebrselassie.
Farah, who has stayed at the venue for several years, was accused by Gebrselassie and several employees of physically assaulting fellow athletes and fitness trainers in at least two alleged incidents there, in one of which he supposedly ‘attacked a married athlete’.
There are further claims that the star of London 2012, who was born in Somalia and came to the UK as a child, behaved abusively towards hotel staff.
Following what the hotel describes as ‘multiple reports of disgraceful conduct’, he is said to have walked out without paying an outstanding bill of just over £2,000.
Sir Mo has categorically denied all wrongdoing.
During 48 hours of bizarre back-and-forth, spokesmen for Farah first disputed that he was involved in any physical altercations while in Ethiopia, then stated that any ‘incident’ which did occur was ‘not of Mo’s making’.
Farah used press appearances to publicise his participation in Sunday’s London Marathon to allege that thieves broke into his room at Yaya Village and stole a watch, two mobile phones and about £2,600 cash in four currencies.
He claims that, when he reported the theft, Gebrselassie ‘did nothing’ to put things right and ‘refused to take responsibility’. He has hired lawyers in Ethiopia to pursue compensation.
Sir Mo insisted the damage to his bag (pictured), from which items were stolen, inside his locked hotel room, could only have been perpetrated by a member of staff
In response, Gebrselassie has also instructed lawyers, who are being told to sue Farah for defamation ‘on [sic] my hard-earned reputation and business’. He further alleges that Farah tried to ‘blackmail’ him in text messages where he threatened to make the affair public.
So what has been going on? How did two legends of long-distance running find themselves trading legal threats and public character assassinations — and why would an athlete of Farah’s standing choose to divert his energies, days before one of the biggest races of his career, to such an ugly and bruising dispute?
Like many a tit-for-tat row, the answer depends on whose version of events you choose to believe.
But in Ethopia, key players on both sides, some of whom spoke exclusively to the Daily Mail, say the roots of the hostility between the two running legends stretches back years.
It has culminated in two particular incidents, both of which seem to have been sparked by suggestions that fellow athletes at the facility were ‘spying’ on Sir Mo’s training regimen.
The first occurred last spring, when Farah, who stayed at Yaya Village — where he is given a half-price berth for £40 a day — for between two and three months at a time, is said to have become involved in an argument with Chala Diriba, the manager of the resort’s gym.
In an interview, Diriba claims Sir Mo accused him of ‘copying’ a weight-training programme he was following at the facility and using it to train other Ethiopian athletes. A dispute ensued.
Mo Farah says he had personal items stolen from his bag by staff at the Yaya Africa Athletics Village hotel in Ethiopia (pictured), owned by Ethiopian track legend Haile Gebrselassie
‘He began to push me and shove me, and then grabbed me around my neck and pushed me out of the gym,’ Diriba claims.
‘I left the place crying. This is my workplace [but] since then, I have never been at the gym when he is training there.’
That version of events is supported by Lemessa Bote, the resort’s general manager, who said yesterday: ‘A year ago he physically assaulted our gym instructor Chala Diriba, and even threatened to have Chala fired… generally, he has had no respect for our staff and has been insulting to many people around him.’
Farah is believed to deny that any such event occurred.
Though his spokesman did not dignify Diriba and Bote’s claims with a comment, sources close to him last night described any report of an altercation as ‘entirely untrue’, stating that both men ‘have a vested interest in supporting their employer’.
The second alleged incident occurred two months ago and involved the ‘married couple’ who — it emerged last night — are a little-known 22-year-old Ethiopian athlete called Dagmawit Kibiru and her husband and trainer, Sisay Tsegaye.
It also took place in the resort’s gym and, according to Tsegaye, again revolved around complaints by Farah (and his entourage) that his marathon training regimen was somehow being ‘spied’ upon.
‘I have an injury at the moment so I was in the gym to help train my wife when one of Mo’s training mates started claiming that we were copying his regimen,’ Tsegaye said.
Sir Mo Farah (left) won Olympic gold for Great Britain at 5,000 and 10,000m in both 2012 and 2016. Haile Gebrselassie (right) won Olympic gold for Ethiopia in the 10,000m in 1996 and 2000, set 27 world records, and is widely regarded as the greatest distance runner in history
‘Then one of them insulted me. I don’t want to state what [he said] because it was rude language.’ Some pushing and shoving ensued. ‘In the middle of that, Mo hit me from behind on my neck. It really was not a serious [punch] but I was angry, so a brawl erupted. Police came to the scene but it was resolved with mediation by the marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa [who got a silver medal at the Rio Olympics].’
‘In all of this, my wife was not hit, as claimed by some people. I am on good terms now with Mo. Generally he is a disciplined athlete, but not some of the people around him.’
Tsegaye’s recollection is broadly supported by Bote, the general manager, who told the Mail Farah had carried out a ‘physical attack’ but that the police investigation was dropped when ‘Haile Gebrselassie intervened, reconciling Mo Farah with the hotel staff and the female athlete’.
Bote also complained about members of Farah’s entourage, saying: ‘Mo was disturbing the tranquillity of Yaya Village, hosting up to ten people in his room, with them taking luggage in and out of the hotel. We tried to reason with Mo about the number of people… but he responded with temper tantrums.
‘Mo has been causing problems at Yaya Village, throwing curses and showing a disrespectful attitude regularly towards hotel staff and customers.’
Gebrselassie, meanwhile, told us Kibiru and Tsegaye called police, who ‘came with the aim of arresting him. I had to step in. This is Mo Farah — had he been taken to a police station, they would have detained him for long periods and this would have damaged his reputation. I convinced the couple to abandon their pursuit and brought both sides to have a conversation. Mo then apologised to them, saying he was angry for some reason that day and that he was wrong.’
Gebrselassie said Farah received a 50 discount on his three-month stay at his hotel, pictured, but still kleft his service bill of more than £2,000 unpaid
Farah’s PR firm, Freuds, issued a statement saying the ‘incident’ in the gym was ‘categorically not of Mo’s making’ and alleging that he, rather than Tsegaye, had called police, who ‘warned that any further threatening behaviour towards Mo would result in police action’.
Whoever had really called the cops, it wasn’t the last time they would be summoned to Yaya Village.
For on March 23, Farah left his hotel room at 5.30am for a day’s vigorous training. When he returned at 4.30pm, he found his suitcase had been broken into.
‘Someone has got the key from reception, opened it up, and they have taken [£2,300 in cash] and two phones,’ he said. Also missing was a Tag Heuer watch, a birthday present from his wife Tania. ‘It was sentimental. It can’t be replaced.’
Detectives arrived at the scene and arrested five employees of Yaya Village, including two women, who were held in custody for three weeks. However, they were finally released without charges being filed.
Farah then demanded the hotel compensate him for the incident and, as his PR firm said in a statement yesterday, ‘take responsibility for this robbery’. The hotel appears to have refused, arguing that Farah’s claims have ‘never been proven’ and that guests are required to leave items worth over $350 (£271) at reception for safekeeping.
‘Our hotel policy is clear,’ said Gebrselassie. ‘You should hand in your valuables to reception when it exceeds a certain amount, or if any issue arose with the safety deposit box in your room. None of this took place.’
Farah insists his preparations for Sunday’s London Marathon have not been compromised
An argument by text message between Gebrselassie and Sir Mo then appears to have developed.
A local legal representative called Mokonnen Teklehaimanot was hired by Farah to, he said, ‘solve it by mediation’ by getting the resort to pay about $10,000 in compensation (the watch is said to have been worth about $8,000).
Last week, after negotiations had broken down, Farah apparently sent a text stating: ‘Know that I am not responsible for what I say during the Press moment in London and what influence it will have on your personality and that of your business.’
Gebrselassie has since described that message as ‘blackmail’.
Matters then became front-page news on Wednesday, when, true to his word, Farah chose to use a London Marathon press conference to announce that he had been robbed while training for the race, and to say he was ‘disappointed’ with his Ethiopian counterpart.
Gebrselassie responded by claiming the grudge between the two men stretched back to an incident years before when Farah, whose former coach Alberto Salazar is the subject of a drug investigation, had tried to bring a coach called Jama Aden to work with him at Yaya Village.
Aden, a Somali national, is being pursued by Spanish authorities and Interpol after his arrest in a 2016 drugs raid.
‘[Farah’s] grudge against me started when I denied access to Jama Aden to the hotel,’ stated Gebrselassie. ‘Jama Aden was conducting training with him at the time. I was head of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation. He was angry with me… and looking for ways to get revenge for that.’
Asked about this claim, a spokesperson for Farah last night dismissed the claims as ‘utter nonsense’ and reasserted that ‘Jama Aden has never trained Mo’.
Doubtless this won’t be the last disputed claim to be aired in public. For this is a row that, as they say, seems set to run and run.