“Tonight, all the racism, the hatred, was washed away”
The unsung hero of these Olympics might not be an athlete, but a 46 year old British Muslim video game designer of Pakistani heritage called Shahid Kamal Ahmad.
On Saturday night London time, there were three extraordinary British athletic performances. First Jessica Ennis, a British athlete of Jamaican heritage, won the women’s heptathlon. Prince Harry lookalike Greg Rutherford followed, beating Australia’s Mitchell Watt in the long jump. Then Mohamed “Mo” Farah, an Islamic British runner with Somalian heritage, won Britain’s first ever gold in the men’s 10,000m.
The three set the stadium alight. And then, the social media arena was ablaze courtesy of a lone tweet from Mr Ahmad, who tweeted: “For 46 years I waited to be accepted as a Brit. Tonight, as Britain cheers a Muslim black boy to victory, I am finally home.”
“I watched the race at home,” Mr Ahmad told The Punch from his home in London this morning. “Mo Farah had been mentioned a bit in the media, but I can’t say I knew that much about him. Like most people I’m not much of an athletics fan.”
Like most teenagers, Mr Ahmad’s daughters aren’t huge athletics fans either. But as Britain’s golden night unfolded, the entire family gathered around the television in an increasing state of enthralment, then finally euphoria, as Mo Farah overtook the favoured African runners in an epic dash down the home straight.
“It was a euphoric moment when I felt connected to the rest of the country,” Mr Ahmad explains. “It felt like one of those few defining moments in British history when the nation is behind its stars. I felt very connected to the nation at that point.
“Although we were at home, it was like we were in the stadium. The crowd wasn’t cheering because Farah was black or white or because he was Muslim or not Muslim, but because he was the best of us. That’s how we were seeing him.”
As mentioned, Mr Ahmad’s elation rebounded from his lounge room into the social media sphere. And that first emotive tweet was just a warm-up.
He also said: “As Mo sprinted home, veins jutting, the country roaring in unison, all the racism I have endured, the blows, the hatred, were washed away.”
And this: “When the crowd cheered Mo down the home straight, I was jumping and screaming. Not just at his win. At us. At our unity and love. Healing.”
Then this gently provocative one: “I wonder how the racists and Islamophobes feel about the wonderful people of the United Kingdom cheering a man called Mohammed to victory?”
Then this, as a bit of a clarifier: “I’m not proud of Mo that he is a Muslim, that’s beside the point.. I’m proud that my country knows who he is, and doesn’t care.”
And then: “The *United* Kingdom. Just for tonight. It can always be like this. The people can be one. Sport has done what politics and media failed at.”
Mr Ahmad, who was a Maggie Thatcher fan but describes himself as politically neutral, also engaged in a Twitter dialogue with a conservative British councillor named Derek Sharp, who replied: “Your tweets have been sensational and choked me up. You have always been home my friend and don’t let anyone tell u otherwise.”
And finally, in a familiar throwback to the emotions experienced across Australia the night Cathy Freeman won the 400m in Sydney, Mr Ahmad tweeted: “Tonight my country is united in one colour: gold”
Shahid Kamal Ahmad was born in London in 1965. Growing up, he experienced various waves of racism by extremist groups like the National Front, as well as countless incidents by less organised individuals and groups.
One day in particular burns strongly in his mind. A mob of 20 to 25 youths and adults tried to smash his doors and windows in with a metal girder. He was terrified, and when the police eventually came, they effectively told him to “grin and bear it”.
A year after Britain was tainted by similar incidents on a mass scale, Mr Ahmad sees hope for his country, spurred, in large part, by the events in the London Olympic stadium this weekend.
Mr Ahmad has only a faint awareness of Cathy Freeman and her starring role at Sydney 2000, but was interested to hear that 12 years on, Aboriginal reconciliation remains a work-in-progress.
“Unity is really, really hard to achieve,” he says. “The only way you can sustain that is to keep sending reminders that any one of us can transcend the norm and represent the rest of us.”
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