Sir Mo Farah, the four-times Olympic champion, was on Wednesday night dramatically accused by Haile Gebrselassie of assaulting another athlete, blackmail and engaging in “disgraceful conduct” while staying at the Ethiopian’s hotel.
A remarkable public spat erupted between the world-famous distance runners after the Briton said his London Marathon preparations had been disrupted by a burglary at the Gebrselassie-owned Yaya Africa Athletics Village, in Addis Ababa.
The claims prompted a furious rebuke by double Olympic and four-time world 10,000m champion Gebrselassie, who released a statement claiming Farah had disclosed “deceit information”. Farah’s accusations were “unproven” and “an act of defamation on my hard-earned reputation”, he added.
Farah claimed earlier at a London press conference that he had returned to his room on March 23 – his 36th birthday – after an early-morning training session to find his bag had been raided. More than £2,500 – kept in four different currencies – two mobile phones and a watch were missing. “I just want him to take responsibility of getting my stuff back,” Farah said of Gebrselassie.
Two hours later, Gebrselassie released his own statement which claimed Farah had turned down the offer of a safe in which to keep his valuables.
He added “we are doing all in our power since we learned about the incident”, and said five employees had been in custody for three weeks before being cleared. Police have since “found nothing on the reported robbery case”.
The statement also listed an alleged police call surrounding an incident between Farah and another athlete in the hotel’s gym. It added: “There were multiple reports of disgraceful conduct, which was not expected from a person of his calibre, and his entourage during his stay, by the hotel staff.”
Gebrselassie goes on to claim “he was reported to the police for attacking (a) married athlete in the gym.” The Ethiopian added: “But due to my mediation role, the criminal charge was able to be dropped.”
Despite Farah having been given a 50 per cent discount for his stay, he had left without paying his service bill of $3,000 (£2,300), Gebrselassie wrote.
The Ethiopian added he initially “opted to be quiet” about Farah’s behaviour after “considering his status and the good people of England”.
“But doing all this and other things to accommodate him in a most possible best way, the return from him was, receiving a short message, which looks like an act of blackmailing and accusation.”
According to Gebrselassie, Farah said in the text that he was “very disappointed” that he had not “made any effort to find my stolen money and especially my watch”. The text added “know that I am not responsible for what I say during the press moment in London and what influence will it have on your personality and that of your business. Greetings from a very disappointed friend... Sir Mo.”
Gebrselassie said his “lawyers will deal with the matter accordingly”.
On Wednesday night Farah responded to the 46-year-old’s outburst. A statement sent to the Telegraph on the 36-year-old’s behalf said: “Mo is disappointed with this statement and the continued reluctance by the hotel and its owner to take responsibility for this robbery. Mo disputes 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 (there was no safe as it was faulty, and Mo requested a new one).
Police reports confirm the incident and the hotel admitted responsibility and were in contact with Mo’s legal advisor. 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. Despite many attempts to discuss this issue privately with Mr Gebrselassie, he did not respond but now that he has, we would welcome him or his legal team getting in touch so that this matter can be resolved.”
Farah’s earlier press conference attack on Gebrselassie had been delivered unprompted by questions from journalists. He said then that he reported the incident to police and says he made repeated attempts to contact Gebrselassie.
Farah said: “It’s a hotel’s responsibility to be able to get it back. I sent Haile a message to tell him what had happened but he didn’t reply. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t respond even though that’s his hotel. I don’t care about the money but the watch was sentimental – it can’t be replaced. It’s a TAG watch my wife bought me as a present for our anniversary.”
Despite Farah moving out of his room “because I didn’t feel comfortable”, he insists the incident will have no bearing on his performance at this Sunday’s London Marathon.
Looking to improve on his third-place finish last year, Farah resumes battle with the two men who beat him – Kenyan world record holder Eliud Kipchoge and Shura Kitata, of Ethiopia.
“At that point it wasn’t affecting my training but it was hard to stay there and enjoy,” said Farah. “But in terms of my training, I’m not blaming this or that – it’s completely separate.
“It will have no effect on this. This doesn’t matter. My work has been done by months and months of hard training. I believe I’m good to go and Sunday you will see whatever happens.
“But as someone who pays for a hotel, I’m disappointed not to take proper action. It doesn’t matter who I am – if you stay somewhere for months you expect a little bit more.”
Kipchoge has won 10 of the 11 marathons he has contested since moving to road racing in 2013, while Farah broke the European marathon record in his last outing over the distance.
Lemissa Bote, general manager of Yaya Village, on Wednesday night told the Telegraph: "As soon as we received a complaint on theft from Mo Farah, I contacted the police."
"As a result, four or five staff workers were detained. Those staff were on duty on the alleged theft day and have access to room keys. I don't agree with Mo with what he said regarding lack of cooperation from our Resort. I myself called the police after Mo reported the theft... hence it led to the detentions.
"The rooms at this Yaya Village have no CCTV cameras so we were not able to identify the suspects. And Mo has claimed his cash was stolen and his watch and a few other items. I don't know how much money was stolen and what type of watch it was. I believe police is taking care of it professionally."
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