Sunderland runner recalls time he replaced Sir Mo Farah in England team following passport problem amid trafficking revelation

A Sunderland runner has recalled how he once replaced Sir Mo Farah to represent England in international competition due to him not having a British passport as the athletics legend this week revealed he was trafficked to the UK as a child.

Thursday, 14th July 2022, 4:35 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th July 2022, 4:36 pm

Sir Mo, a four-time Olympic gold-medal winner, made revelation earlier this week that he was brought into the UK illegally under the name of another child.

Despite his tough beginnings, Sir Mo has become one of the UK’s most high-profile and successful athletes, with his track triumphs earning him a knighthood.

But back in 1998 at the World Schools Cross Country Championships in Latvia, he was replaced by Sunderland Harriers runner Lee Browell after a young Sir Mo was told he couldn’t compete without having any paperwork or a British passport.

Mo Farah pictured alongside Lee Browell in the Schools' International Cross County team in April 1998.

Lee, 40, who lives in Grangetown, said: “We were about 16-years-old and Mo wasn’t allowed to compete because he didn’t have a British passport so I ended up replacing him.

"I was competing for England and we actually won a bronze medal during the competition – it’s mad now to think that we had no idea at the time what we now know about Mo.”

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Lee says Sir Mo regularly spent time in Sunderland and competed together many times for England.

The running team pictured in April 1998.

He added: “He was quite shy when we were kids and I remember one time when we were all in a club in town and he was just drinking water all night but he was the first on the dancefloor.

"It’s crazy to hear what happened and we would have never known when we were young that he had been through all the trouble he suffered.”

Lee, who works as a mentor for disadvantaged people in the criminal justice system, says running kept him ‘focused’ as a child.

He said: “We were all mates in the team and we all loved it. Athletics really kept me focused as a child and kept me out of a lot of trouble.

Lee has kept his running vest and bronze medal from the championship in 1998.

"Now with work, I try to encourage others to focus on something like keeping fit and sports to stay out of trouble. I think running helped Mo as he kept it secret for so long. He was a brilliant guy.”

Lee with his children Phoebe, 6 and Evan, 3.