Eight days after the kick off of 21 Commonwealth Games in Australia, tagged Gold Coast 2018, eight African athletes — all Cameroonians — have disappeared from the Games.
Initially, five Cameroonian athletes were reported missing from the Commonwealth Games athletes village, with suspicion they had fled with the intention not to return home.
Weightlifter Olivier Matam Matam and boxers Christian Ndzie Tsoye and Simplice Fotsala have been missing since earlier this week, while weightlifters Arcangeline Fouodji Sonkbou and Petit Minkoumba went missing on Tuesday.
All had competed, except Tsoye, who failed to show up for his weigh-in for his 91kg quarter-final on Tuesday, granting his opponent a walk-over victory. Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s career ended by injury at Commonwealth Games
But on Wednesday, three more Cameroonian athletes were declared missing.
This is not the first time African athletes and indeed Cameroonian athletes have disappeared from international games.
After 2012 London Olympics, at least 21 athletes were reported missing, including seven from Cameroon and four from the DRC, as well as nationals of Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan and Ethiopia.
During the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, more than 40 athletes and officials overstayed or sought asylum in Australia, including those from Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
At the ongoing 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Cameroonian weightlifters Francois Etoundi and Simplice Ribouem were both granted refugee status, and competed for Australia in the 2018 Games.
This has fueled fears that those who are currently missing might be looking forward to seeking asylum in Australia following political unrest in the Anglophone region of the country. Fifteen thousand English-speaking Cameroonians are currently asking for independence from the main Cameroon — they are demanding for the state of Ambazonia.
Victor Nso, Cameroon’s Team Manager, said, “The Cameroon Commonwealth team is sad to announce that eight athletes are missing from their respective rooms in the Games village.
“The athletes were three weightlifters and five boxers; they left the athletes’ village in three waves over the past days.”
Queensland police have been notified of the athletes’ disappearance.
“We have officially informed our hierarchy back home: the ministry of sports and the president of the National Olympic Committee of Cameroon. We have also laid formal complaint to the Australian police.”
Kate Jones, Queensland Commonwealth Games Minister, said the Australian federal police were “keeping a watching brief on these athletes”.
“When an athlete comes to Australia to compete in a competition we expect them to front up on the field and compete, so we are disappointed about that.”
Cameroon are yet to clinch any medal while South Africa and Nigeria are the only African countries with medals on the top ten chart.
Before the Games began, the Peter Dutton, Home Affairs Minister, warned that all athletes would be closely monitored to ensure they did not overstay their visas.
“Our message to the 0.5% of people who might think they can overstay a visa, or not act within the conditions of that visa, is that Australia has very tough laws and they need to abide by the laws,” Dutton said in January.