PRESTIGIOUS international sporting events including the Olympics and Commonwealth Games have long seen thousands of elite athletes set off all over the world in hope of bringing home a gold medal.
But some of them leave their countries secretly planning to never return at all.
There have been many cases of sports stars who have spent years training in their chosen sport only to qualify for and then ditch the event to seek asylum once in the host country.
While most of the athletes from 71 nations and territories currently on the Gold Coast to compete in the Commonwealth Games will get on a plane to go home before their visas expire — there are fears some may not.
Commonwealth Games officials today revealed they are concerned about eight Cameroon athletes who have gone missing. Three weightlifters and three boxers have not been seen since Tuesday, triggering suspicion they have fled with no intention of returning home.
Cameroon team manager Victor Agbor Nso on Wednesday confirmed weightlifter Olivier Matam and boxers Ndzie Tchoyi and Simplice Fotsala had been due to compete this week but could not be found.
He said two other weightlifters, Aka Angeline Filji and Mikoumba Petit David, had earlier gone missing from the Games, but did not specify when. A sixth Cameroon athlete, Ulrich Rodrigue Yombo, was today confirmed missing after he failed to appear at the weigh-in on Wednesday ahead of the quarter-final bout in the 81kg division. Australian Border Force and the Ministry of Sports and the president of the National Olympic Committee of Cameroon have been informed.
And a Cameroon team official told news.com.au eight of the team’s 24 athletes were now missing from their respective rooms in the Athlete’s Village.
Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive David Grevemberg said it was disappointing the athletes didn’t show up they were scheduled to compete.
“But these athletes are guests here in Australia, they are still within their visas and they have the right to travel freely,” Mr Grevemberg said. “Right now we are worried about safety and welfare of the athletes and we are taking this very seriously and monitoring the situation with team Cameroon.”
It’s not the first time Australia has dealt with cases of missing international athletes, mostly from African nations, suspected of fleeing in a bid to seek asylum.
At the conclusion of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, 45 athletes and officials from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone overstayed their visas or applied for protection visas once the Games had finished.
After the Sydney Olympics in 2000, more than 100 athletes overstayed, with 30 applying for asylum. That’s compared to the London 2012 Olympics, in which seven left the athletes village.
Australia’s reciprocal entry agreements mean most international tourists usually only need a passport, a ticket and foreign currency before visiting. But for people from war-torn parts of the world or countries in civil strife — including Cameroon — travellers require a valid visa to enter Australia even for a short holiday. So for some athletes, the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, might be their one chance to leave safely and with a valid visa. The athletes are granted special games visas to compete in Australia.
There are more than 6600 athletes and officials in Australia for the Commonwealth Games, with 41 competing for Cameroon.
Gold Coast organising committee chairman Peter Beattie said he wasn’t surprised six athletes from Cameroon appeared to have fled because it was something that happened at other games.
Mr Beattie, a former Queensland state premier, said the authorities had mechanisms in place to deal with the situation if the athletes overstay their visas. “I don’t want to be blase … (but) I don’t get too excited about this,” he said. “There is a system to deal with this and it will be dealt with.
“We would appreciate them sticking within the law, enjoying themselves but sticking within the law.”
Last month, Rwanda’s Sports and Culture Minister Julienne Uwacu warned athletes at a send-off ceremony not to consider “escaping while on national duty”.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton warned athletes not to overstay their visas in a public address before the Games opened.
“To say to the half-a-per cent who might be minded to do the wrong thing, that Australia has very tough border protection laws, and we’re not going to allow people to act outside of the law,” Mr Dutton said.
“The 40 or 50 people we are talking about need to recognise that Australia, almost like no other country in the world, has tough border protection policies, and people need to abide by those laws.”
WHAT’S GOING ON IN CAMEROON
Cameroon, in central Africa, is suffering from civil unrest after a military crackdown on English-speaking separatists.
The Australian government’s latest official advice for visitors to Cameroon is to exercise a “high degree of caution” and warns “do not travel” to the far north region or within 40 kms of the Nigerian border.
“In late September 2017, protests in the Northwest and Southwest regions turned violent, resulting in deaths and injuries,” the latest advice reads.
“There is the potential for further unrest in both regions as protests continue. There are reports of transport restrictions, including movement of people, in both regions.
“In September 2017, explosions were reported in the regional capitals of Bamenda and Buea, resulting in some injuries.”
The warning instructs Australians to “avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, as these may turn violent”.
“Monitor local media. Follow the advice of local authorities. We now advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the Northwest and Southwest regions, due to the ongoing domestic tensions. Exercise a high degree of caution in Cameroon. Higher levels apply in some parts of the country.”
Culled from news.com.australia