Sbihi keen to inspire as Team GB's first Muslim flagbearer

Mohamed Sbihi has long been a trailblazer in his sport but in front of watching billions he's ready to chart new waters

Sbihi will become the first Muslim athlete to lead out Team GB when he shares flag bearing duties with sailor Hannah Mills in Friday's Olympic opening ceremony in Tokyo.

The 33-year old son of a Moroccan immigrant father and an English mother is a comprehensive-educated kid from Surbiton.

Rowing has long had unfair reputation of being powered by Oxbridge-educated talent, perhaps forgetting that five-time gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave worked as a labourer on building sites.

Sbihi knows and embraces his role has greater impact than the pure power he can supply to Great Britain's men's eight, bronze medallists at the last World Championships two years ago and defending champions from Rio.

"We need more representation and hopefully this starts that process of getting young Muslim kids involved in all types of sport," he said.

"I was just an average kid that was lucky enough to fall into rowing and here I am, 18 years later, leading out Team GB at the Olympics.

"I hope it has the impact I would like. This is an incredibly diverse and inclusive team, and that's not been an overnight thing.

"I was in London and Rio to see Mo Farah win his medals as a refugee who came to the country very young and as a practicing Muslim. That was inspiring.

"He was somebody I saw around my university when I was training and it's amazing to think that I'm the first Muslim to have this honour."

Sbihi admitted he nearly called time on his rowing career after Rio, while the postponement of the Games by another 12 months also had him questioning his desire to continue.

However, it was wife Rachael, who recently gave birth to their son Idris, who persuaded him for one last shot - and she was the first person he called, after being told he'd been selected by Team GB's chef de mission Mark England.

"I was speechless when it was hinted at that it might happen, originally I thought I was about to be told off, it was a very serious start to the chat," he added.

"Rach been incredibly supportive the last few months. Me being away has been a challenge and quite tough for her. More than anyone else in the world she knows what I've gone through and I'm just happy to reward her with something like this."

There's a certain bravado in the rowing world about carrying the flag - fuelled by the exploits of Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent, who performed the task in Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney.

All flag bearers are giving a holder for the flag - both of them shunned it, carrying it proudly around the stadium, guns flexed, arms ramrod straight.

In London and Rio, both Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Andy Murray followed their lead.

"It's a challenge and if I bump into Sir Andy I'm going to ask him for some tips on how he did it," joked Sbihi.

"To walk in Sir Steve and Sir Matt's footsteps, I'm just lost for words."