LONDON (AP) — Seven of Cameroon's Olympic competitors have disappeared from their official residence and may be attempting to seek asylum in Britain, the chief of the African nation's delegation was quoted as saying Tuesday.
The British news agency Press Association said David Ojong, the Team Cameroon chief, told his government that five boxers, a swimmer and a soccer player left the athletes village in Stratford, east London, over the weekend and have not returned. The state-run Cameroon Tribune newspaper published a similar report, also quoting Ojong.
A sports reporter in Cameroon said some athletes had hinted before departing for London that they might attempt to stay there.
"They said they were very demotivated and named insufficient government attention to their complaints, inadequate financing, poor preparation and substandard infrastructure," David Sandjo, a sports reporter for Sweet FM radio, told The Associated Press. "Some even said they would not hesitate to change their nationality if ever they had the chance."
Ojong was quoted identifying the missing athletes, but the names differed from those given to the London organizing committee.
As displayed on the London Games official site, the seven are 50-meter freestyle swimmer Paul Edingue Ekane, 21; women's goalie Drusille Ngako Tchimi, 25; and five boxers: light flyweight Thomas Essomba, 24; light heavyweight Christian Donfack Adjoufack, 28; lightweight Yhyacinthe Mewoli Abdon, 26; super heavyweight Blaise Yepmou Mendouo, 27; and light welterweight Serge Ambomo, 26.
The Associated Press telephoned and emailed Cameroon's Olympic delegation, but no messages were answered.
Press Association, citing Cameroon media, said the seven all hold visas permitting them to remain legally in Britain until at least November.
A private newspaper in Cameroon, Le Messager, reported that the athletes were supposed to fly back to Cameroon on Sunday but had vanished. It said they took their personal effects, a nearly $5,000 performance bonus and new sports equipment with them, citing an unnamed national Olympic official.
The newspaper said Cameroon's Olympic delegation told Prime Minister Philemon Yang about the disappearances and asked boxing coach Justin Tchouem to explain why he allowed his players to keep their passports.
Britain's Home Office, responsible for immigration, said it could not comment on whether any of the seven had applied for asylum.
Scotland Yard said it was investigating the reports but could not yet verify that the Cameroonian athletes had gone missing.
Cameroon, a predominantly French-speaking nation of 20 million in west central Africa, is among the poorest nations on earth, with an estimated 2011 economic output of just $1,230 per person, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Britain's Office for National Statistics says fewer than 20,000 Cameroonians live in the UK, with most asylum-seekers opting instead for France. The UK Border Agency says the majority of asylum applicants from Cameroon are refused and deported.
It's not the first case of missing athletes in London. Before the July 27 opening ceremony, Sudan's embassy confirmed that three athletes had gone missing; one had applied for asylum and the other two were expected to do so.
Associated Press writer Divine Ntaryike in Douala, Cameroon, contributed to this report.