Jason Mohammad: “I was spat on because I’m a Muslim. This is how it was’ | sport

JAs soon as Mohammad wants to speak, which will come as no surprise to observers of this most ubiquitous broadcaster. After all, he’s a man who, in addition to being the main presenter of the BBC’s final score and the occasional host of the Day 2 match, has long been involved in the company’s coverage of the snooker. , rugby league, rugby union and athletics, among others. sports. His voice, it is fair to say, is heard frequently.

Which is not a bad thing. Mohammad is as engaging and articulate as he is versatile and prolific, and these qualities are clearly evident as we speak via Zoom. But this is not the sport that it is all about, or at least it is not the main topic in Mohammad’s mind. Instead, he wants to delve into religion, race and identity, important topics that have been fundamental in his life from childhood but that he doesn’t quite feel comfortable discussing. that now.

Why this strikes at the heart of the story Mohammad has to tell. The son of a Pakistani father and a Welsh mother, he grew up a practicing Muslim in Ely, officially the most disadvantaged suburb of Cardiff. It was the 1980s and life was tough, offering challenges for Mohammad not only to fulfill his dream of becoming a journalist, but which led him to suppress his faith. Where there should have been unwavering pride, there was fear, reluctance, and ultimately deep emotional scars.

“People think Islamophobia is a new thing, but I was mistreated because I was a Muslim when I was seven,” he says. “I was called a ‘Muzzie’ and the P word and I remember one day I was walking home from school and a child spat on me for no reason. That’s exactly what it was then for someone like me – the only Muslim kid in my school, one of the few Mohammedans on my side of Cardiff, in a difficult place where there were a lot of people. racist. The first time I saw a union flag, it had “NF” in the middle and it was hanging from a window near my house.

“And although I didn’t suffer from racism every day, I was constantly aware that I was different, and when you are aware that you are different, you feel it. [racist abuse] could happen at any time. This sort of thing sticks to your skin and can damage you as an adult. I certainly did, hence my inability and unwillingness to talk about my faith for many years.

A turning point came in 2009 when Mohammad made a pilgrimage to Mecca as part of a documentary series for the Welsh-language television channel S4C. It was literally about following in his father’s footsteps – he had visited Islam’s holiest city four years earlier – and for Mohammad the experience was as deep as he had hoped. He describes the trip as a “spiritual awakening”, giving him the confidence and desire to be open about who he is and what he believes in, something reinforced after the documentary aired.

“I was nervous about it being shown because I didn’t think people would want to see someone who sports on TV show their soul this way,” he says. “But I got hundreds of messages from people saying how much they enjoyed the program and how it made them cry. This reaction made me realize that people are interested in religion and spirituality and that there is no need to hide my Pakistani heritage and how incredibly proud I am.

Jason Mohammad covering a Six Nations match between Wales and Italy at the Millennium Stadium in February 2014. Photograph: Stu Forster / Getty Images

There is no denying the ease with which Mohammad now speaks of his faith. From his Cardiff home, which he shares with his wife Nicola and their three children, he speaks effusively of that trip to Mecca 12 years ago, as well as of Ramadan, and in particular of the fasting period there. year, which ended in mid-May. “It was difficult given the amount of programming I do. At halftime on Final Score, for example, there’s a coffee tour and while the experts I’m with had a cup, I had to do without it, which was really hard because I love coffee.

“But you know what, something is going on inside – after the first two days you get carried away with focus and devotion and a strong connection with God is formed. It gave me the strength to take it away. go out. “

Mohammad’s journey has been deeply personal, but it has also encouraged him to speak more broadly about the race, especially when it comes to football. As someone who fell in love with the sport as a young boy watching Cardiff in Ninian Park and continues to be passionate about the sport, the 47-year-old firmly believes that more needs to be done to fight against abuse on the ground. “I would immediately expel any team found guilty of having racist players out of European and international competitions,” he said.

He also believes that a lot remains to be done to tackle the abuses that occur off the pitch. “I’ve had some horrible comments on Twitter and what I can’t understand is why some people think it’s okay to mistreat someone for just doing their job, be it footballers like Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka or a football presenter like me. I fully support all measures that prevent this from happening. “

Mohammad’s reconnection with his faith and identity also led him to become a speaker and activist within the Islamic community of Wales. He recently returned to Ely to shoot a documentary on the region.

“It’s still a tough place with a lot of anger, aggression and poverty,” he says. “But what struck me about going back was the enormous pride there is there – the people of Ely are not ashamed to be Ely, and neither should they be. They are working class people who work hard for themselves and their families. “

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Mohammad’s own work ethic is unmistakable. In addition to hosting two radio shows – the morning show for Radio Wales and, alongside Reverend Kate Bottley, Good Morning Sunday for Radio 2 – there are his various sports concerts, which will soon include the hosting of a program of highlights from the Tokyo Olympics. This will be the second Olympics Mohammad will cover for the BBC, having been part of his team at the 2012 Games and rightly his professional achievements mean a lot to him. They were hard earned and they resonate in a way that, given all that he’s been through, is wholeheartedly cherished.

“I grew up watching Des Lynam and Steve Ryder and that’s all I ever wanted to do: showcase the sport on TV and radio,” he says. “But I was constantly told that this wouldn’t happen to me, that a boy called Mohammad from one of the most difficult parts of the UK, if not Europe, couldn’t get on the BBC. . But I continued to believe, I continued to transplant, and finally I succeeded.

“This is something that I really enjoyed after a friend told me, ‘You realize that you are the first Muslim presenter of Match of the Day, and for Muslim children to see someone like you. presenting one of the most iconic shows on television is massive. You gave them hope that they could make their own dreams come true ”. I never thought about it and, while it’s a big responsibility, it’s also an honor and it makes me even more proud of who I am.

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