Press attaché Emmanuel Tataw told the Associated Press the seven Olympians have valid U.K. visas that would allow them to stay in the country for six months. He noted that other Cameroon athletes have left Olympic squads during earlier international sports events held in Melbourne and Athens.
“Most of the time they don’t come back,” he said, adding that they usually seek better training facilities abroad.
Cameroon sent “about 33″ athletes to the London games, and more than half of them, who were on the women’s soccer team, had left London after they were eliminated. The missing athletes include five boxers, a swimmer, and a soccer player — all of whom completed their events before departing, he said.
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.
Tataw said the athletes left the Olympic village in Stratford, east London, in the middle of the night “without the authorization of Cameroon authorities.”
“They are adults,” he said.
London Olympic officials said Wednesday that Cameroon officials were seeking help in locating the athletes, but stressed that they had not breached the terms of their visas and were not violating any immigration laws.
“The team has obviously raised a concern and the police are obviously informed,” International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said. “But at this stage I don’t think it’s necessarily for the IOC to worry about whether they will outstay their welcome.”
He said the seven are 50-meter freestyle swimmer Paul Edingue Ekane, 21; women’s goalie Drusille Ngako Tchimi, 25; and five boxers: Thomas Essomba, 24; Christian Donfack Adjoufack, 28; Hyacinthe Mewoli Abdon, 26; Blaise Yepmou Mendouo, 27; and Serge Ambomo, 26.
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 U.K. Border Agency says the majority of asylum applicants from Cameroon are refused and deported.