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Team officials say that five boxers, a swimmer and a footballer have disappeared, possibly to claim asylum
Seven Olympic athletes have disappeared amid fears they have fled the London 2012 Games to claim asylum, according to team officials.
Five boxers, a swimmer and a footballer from Cameroon were reported missing earlier this week leading team officials to suggest they had “defected.”
“What began as rumour has finally turned out to be true,” David Ojong, the Cameroon mission head said. “Seven Cameroonian athletes who participated at the 2012 London Olympic Games have disappeared from the Olympic Village.”
The Cameroonian athletes have not broken British immigration rules introduced for the Olympics that allow competitors, their coaches and families to stay in the country until early November.
But the athletes’ disappearance and Ojong’s comments have received widespread attention in Cameroon, where people said they were embarrassed by the news but understood the predicament facing the athletes.
“The conditions in Cameroon are very difficult – there are no opportunities here and if you have the chance to go the UK, it’s understandable that you would want to stay there,” said Henri Tchounga, a tour guide in Yaounde. “But my fear is that now Cameroonians will have a bad reputation and in future we will not be able to get visas. It’s good for them but a serious problem for the rest of us.”
Ojong said a reserve goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team, Drusille Ngako, was the first to disappear. She was not one of the 18 finally retained after pre-Olympic training in Scotland.
While her team-mates left for Coventry for their last preparatory encounter against New Zealand, she vanished. A few days later, swimmer Paul Ekane Edingue disappeared along with his personal belongings.
Ojong added that five boxers eliminated from the Games, Thomas Essomba, Christian Donfack Adjoufack, Abdon Mewoli, Blaise Yepmou Mendouo and Serge Ambomo, went missing on Sunday from the Olympic village. It was reported that four of the athletes were last seen at a team reception at the Royal Garden hotel, next to Kensington Palace, west London, on Friday.
Ojong is understood to have held talks with the sports minister Adoum Garoua at the Olympic Village on Tuesday.
It is not the first time Cameroonian athletes have disappeared during international sports competitions.
At past Francophonie and Commonwealth games as well as junior soccer competitions, several Cameroonians have quit their delegation without official consent.
In June, an Ethiopian torchbearer, Natnael Yemane, 15, also disappeared after he went missing from a hotel in Nottingham.
Meanwhile three Sudanese athletes who hoped to compete in the Games were last month reported missing amid claims they would apply for political asylum.
Flaubert Mbiekop, an economist from Cameroon, said: “The bottom line is to look at the economic conditions in Cameroon and see how hard the system is for many people, especially the athletes who don’t receive any support from the government. London presented an opportunity; I’m not at all surprised that they took it.”