Seven of Cameroon’s athletes participating in the London Olympics have disappeared, with their passports, luggage, their brand new sports equipment, and the $5,000 each was given by the Cameroon government for qualifying for the Games. Six men—a swimmer and five boxers—and one woman, the reserve goalkeeper for the soccer team. The lady—Drusille Ngako—made a run for it even before the women’s soccer tournament had begun. The Cameroon contingent was training in Scotland, and when her team-mates left for Coventry to play their last preparatory match, she walked out of her hotel and into the great yonder.

The others, however, participated in the Games, and left only after they had been eliminated.

None has as yet approached any embassy for asylum. Possibly, they are just taking it easy for a few days, taking in the sights of London. Their passports allow them to stay on in Britain till November. So they definitely have time enough to take a nice break.

Frederic Fokejou Tefot of Cameroon competes during men’s weightlifting competition at the 2012 London Olympics. (AP)

A few days later, one of them handed herself over to the British police, saying that the two girls had run away after they had done poorly at the Games, and their head coach had called them aside and told them they had no future in athletics. This, she said, had huge financial implications for their families, and the head coach was a very influential man, well-connected to the Cameroon power elite. In other words, the girls were too scared to go home. I haven’t been able to find out whether the other girl was ever traced.

We in India know very little about Cameroon other than that it defeated Argentina and Colombia in the soccer World Cup in 1990, and went to the quarter-finals. The team won the hearts of football lovers across the world, especially that grand old man Roger Milla, with his magnificent celebratory dance after every goal he scored.

What one can make out from information available on the Web is that this central African country, with its fertile land and vast timber reserves, is among the top 10 economies in sub-Saharan Africa, with significant exports, a gross domestic product growth rate of 4% a year, and official reserves of over $3 billion. However, it is also one of the most corrupt countries on earth, with at least one-third of the population subsisting on less than a dollar a day, no individual freedom or human rights to speak of—a cosy dictatorship that pretends to be a multi-party democracy. In other words, a very typical state of affairs. A great place to run away from.

But it also has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. So that’s a distinct advantage the Cameroonian fugitive enjoys.

I sincerely hope these seven athletes find the happier life they are seeking. And I find it particularly touching that they all competed for their country and left only after they had given their best and been eliminated. Even the goalkeeper who vanished before the actual tournament started, did so only after she found out she would not be part of the final 16-member team that would represent Cameroon in the London Games. They did their duty before waving goodbye to a life they thought they did not deserve. Way to go!

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