When Mo Farah won gold at the European Championships yesterday it was far more than just another excellent athletics performance from the British athletics squad. To understand the importance of Farah's victory, one has to consider the place that the Somalian community currently occupy in the British socio-economic system  rock bottom. Even the much maligned Bangladeshi community, through sheer length of tenure, has a higher social standing in our so called multi-cultural, tolerant Britian.

Given that the Somalian community are the most recent non-white arrivals to these shores, added to the fact that they are part of the wider, beleaguered Muslim community, and that their homeland is embroiled in a most complex struggle for identity and supremacy both in religious, national and tribal terms, it is not hard to understand how those of Somalian decent have become the whipping boy for those that fear all things foreign. Mo Farah's emphatic victory has created a chance to turn the tables on not only the street bigotry that they must confront, but also the more insidious institutional racism that permeates so many aspects of middle England. Draped in a Union Jack, Farah has made an emphatic statement about the future possibilities for the Somalian community in Britain and its future contributions to British life. 

Through my long years in developing table tennis, both at school and club level, I gained some insight into the complexities of the Somalian community but more than anything, I recognised the patently obvious; the Somalian community is no different from any other community in Britain; they are looking to enhance their prospects through employment, through education and through social contacts. Somalians want exactly the same things for their kids as everybody else wants for theirs. But if you are excluded from employment and decent housing, it is extremely difficult to escape the ghetto that you find yourself in. Mo Farah's victory might just make that struggle a tiny little bit easier.


While plying my table tennis trade in Southall I gained some first hand experience of the daily difficulties that Somalians, living in London, must endure; an experience of economic and social isolation. Within our club setting, that isolation was lessened but immediately one left the relative security of the club, the barriers were all too clear to see. For Somalians, it was the worst housing, the highest unemployment rates and the least social contacts vital contacts that can make things better.


Southall itself is a divided town with two vibrant communities separated by a railway line; the more established Sikh community to the north of the line, the more recently arrived Somalian community in the more run-down areas to the south. Each community has their own shops, cafes and social clubs and it is quite rare to see them intermingling. The Sikhs have developed some local political power but the Somalians have only each other.


One day, returning from a session in the local high school, which by the way seemed well integrated, I and two of my fellow coaches called in to a local cafe for our evening sustenance. It turned out to be a local Somalian cafe, and when we walked in the talking stopped and the heads turned. We were probably the first non-Somalians ever to have paid them a visit. Soon though, things settled down and we were treated to some great food and some great hospitality. It soon became our regular port of call after our Monday evenings coaching sessions. On each occasion we were well received, as if they were grateful that we were breaking some invisible barrier. Some months later I took my partner for a meal there and judging by the reaction she might have been the first European female visitor they had ever had. Again we were made to feel at home. A few weeks later we returned, only this time with her daughter. Again, probably another first, not just for that cafe, but for any Somalian cafe in Southall. Through sport, in this case table tennis, barriers were being torn down.


Now that Mo Farah has become something of a sporting celebrity, we can genuinely hope that the Somalian community will be welcomed a little more warmly into British life. It might help if we remind ourselves that that part of Africa, commonly referred to as the Horn of Africa, is generally accepted by anthropologists to be the home of homo-sapiens. Somalians, Ethiopians, Eritrean and Kenyans are not the 'other', some alien species. The Horn of Africa is where our ancestors started their journey. So Somalians are, in fact, very much part of the family. Mo Farah is a timely reminder of that fact.


End JPK 29/7/10 Copyright

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 27 May 2018 16:22 )