Seven Olympic athletes from the Central Africa republic of Cameroon have gone missing from the Olympic village, leaving in the middle of the night. An Olympic official from Cameroon says that the athletes may be seeking better opportunities elsewhere.
According to Sports Illustrated, Cameroon had sent 37 Olympic athletes to London. Press attach� Emmanuel Tataw tells the AP that there is precedent for such absences, as Olympic squads in Melbourne and Athens also saw athletes vanish.
“Most of the time they don’t come back,” he says.
The missing athletes are made up of a swimmer, a soccer player and five boxers, all of whom had completed their events and would most likely be headed home soon.
The seven athletes are 50-meter freestyle swimmer Paul Edingue Ekane, 21; women’s goalie Drusille Ngako Tchimi, 25; and five boxers: Thomas Essomba, 24 (pictured); Christian Donfack Adjoufack, 28; Hyacinthe Mewoli Abdon, 26; Blaise Yepmou Mendouo, 27; and Serge Ambomo, 26.
Among the poorest nations on Earth, the International Monetary Fund reports that the average resident earns just $1,230 a year as of 2011. Cameroon is bordered by Nigeria to the west, Chad to the northeast, the Central African Republic to the east and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo to the south. An estimated 70 percent of the country farms, and newspapers, radio and television are all considered to be censored and under government control.
The seven missing athletes have U.K. visas that will allow them to stay in Britain for six months; the boxers also have Schengen visas because they trained in Italy before the London games began. Such a visa makes it easier to travel legally to other countries — particularly to the desirable destination of France, which has a large Cameroonian community, includes the friends and family of some of the missing athletes and would be very easy for the French-speaking athletes to assimilate into.
“The team has obviously raised a concern and the police are obviously informed,” says Mark Adams, an International Olympic Committee spokesman. “But at this stage I don’t think it’s necessarily for the IOC to worry about whether they will outstay their welcome.”
Jean Paul Monyemo, the deputy national trainer for boxing, told the AP that there had been some indications that the athletes may be looking to defect.
“But no one suspected they would move so fast. By Sunday morning, they had disappeared,” says Monyemo. “What generally pushes Cameroonian athletes to disappear in foreign countries is the kind of bad treatment they get at home.”