Gold Coast (Australia) (AFP) – A total of eight athletes from conflict-hit Cameroon are now missing from the Commonwealth Games in Australia, team officials said Wednesday.
Three weightlifters and two boxers were initially reported to Australian police after not being seen since Tuesday, triggering suspicion they had fled with no intention of returning to Cameroon.
Cameroon press attache Simon Molombe told AFP the number of missing athletes had risen to eight — one third of the country’s 24-strong team.
“It came as a complete surprise,” he said. “We have no idea where they are. The matter is in the hands of the police.
“There were no worries this kind of thing might happen,” he insisted. “We continue to cooperate with the police.”
Australian Border Force were searching for weightlifters Olivier Matam Matam, Arcangeline Fouodji and Petit David Minkoumba and boxers Ndzie Tchoyi and Simplice Fotsala after they apparently fled.
Three more boxers have since vanished, sparking an Australian Border Force manhunt.
Cameroon team manager Victor Agbor Nso told local media he had been in contact with the police.
Commonwealth Games organisers called for competitors to respect the law, mindful of the fact that more than 100 athletes overstayed their visas at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“We would appreciate them sticking within the law, enjoying themselves, but sticking within the law,” organising committee boss Peter Beattie told reporters.
“That includes Cameroon and any other athletes. And if they are thinking of doing anything other, I would encourage them not to.”
Before the Games opened on April 4, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton warned that athletes would be closely monitored to ensure they did not overstay their visas and that they returned home after competition ended.
“It’s obviously disappointing that some athletes who have come to compete, didn’t compete as scheduled,” said Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive David Grevemberg.
“It’s important to remember that these athletes are guests here in Australia at this time, they are still within their visas, they have a right to travel freely,” he added.
“But this is obviously an issue that Team Cameroon is monitoring very, very closely.
“Until it becomes a real issue in terms of visas and so forth we would obviously have to take that very seriously.”
Cameroon, in central Africa, is suffering from civil unrest after a military crackdown on English-speaking separatists.