Four members of Congo’s Olympic team go missing
Boxers Thomas Essomba, left, Blaise Mendouo, top left, Christin Adjoufack, top centre, and Paul Edingue, top right, Serge Ambomo, bottom left, Drusille Ngako, bottom centre and Abdon Mewoll, bottom right, are among seven athletes from the African nation who have disappeared. But at a meeting with reporters in a secret location they claimed they want to stay put in the UK not for economic reasons but because there is no support for athletes in their home country.
Details of the apparent Congo defections came as it emerged that at least five members of the Cameroon team have pleaded to be allowed to stay in Britain rather than returning with teammates yesterday.
The Home Office refused to say whether the five, all boxers, were seeking asylum.
Two members of the Sudanese team and one Ethiopian are reported to have sought asylum in the UK, one Sudanese is missing, and two other members of the Cameroon team – a swimmer and a female footballer – have also disappeared after suddenly vanishing from the Olympic Village.
A UN-run radio station in Congo said Cedric Mandembo, who competed for the central African country in judo, disappeared after the closing ceremony and has not been reachable on his mobile phone.
He lost his match after 49 seconds and is said to have left the Olympic Village without saying where he was going. He had been due to fly home last night.
Congo judo coach Ibula Masengo, boxing trainer Blaise Bekwa, and national technical director of athletics Guy Nkita had also gone missing, it was claimed. They too were said to have left the Olympic Village with their luggage.
The Home Office declined to comment on the individual cases. Congo team officials were ‘out of contact’ returning home while no one was available for comment at the country’s London embassy.
The disappearances come at a hugely sensitive time for the Government after the success of the Olympics and with the Paralympics due to begin in two weeks.
It follows fears from immigration staff that up to 2 per cent of Olympic visitors from some continents may claim refuge in the UK in the months after the Games.
Authorities in Cameroon, which is regarded as one of the more stable countries in Africa, have accused the boxers of wanting to be economic migrants and say they should have returned home with other athletes.
But the Olympians, who absconded from their Stratford, East London, village last week, told the BBC they had been threatened and wanted a sponsor to help them stay in Britain.
Boxer Thomas Essomba said that there was no support for athletes in Cameroon, adding: ‘We are not staying here because we don’t like our country, but [because we] want to practise the sports we love. We want to become professional. We cannot return to Cameroon… if we return, we will not practise any more.’
As well as claiming they were threatened, the boxers said promised bonuses had been halved.
However, David Ojong, the head of the Cameroon delegation to the Olympics, accused the boxers of lying and said they were making up the allegation to justify desertion.
Before the 2008 Olympics seven members of the Cuban soccer team sought asylum after a qualifying game in the US, and the entire Eritrean national soccer team fled during a 2009 competition in Kenya.