LONDON — Thousands of Olympians have returned to their homelands with the end of the London Games – but more than a dozen African competitors have not.
Even before the closing ceremony, some athletes from impoverished or conflict-ridden nations including Cameroon, Eritrea, Guinea and the Ivory Coast had disappeared from the athletes’ village, and their whereabouts remain a mystery.
The London Games are not the first time such reports have surfaced: There is a well-established history, dating back to the Cold War, of sportsmen trying to use international competitions in foreign countries as springboards to a better life.
Athletes attending the Olympics have the legal right to stay in Britain until November under the terms of their visas, but one of them has already declared that he intends to seek political asylum in Britain.
“I still very much love my country and it’s the harsh conditions and lack of basic human rights which has compelled me to seek asylum,” Eritrean steeplechase runner Weynay Ghebresilasie, 18, told The Guardian newspaper in an interview published Wednesday.
Ghebresilasie, who finished 10th in his first-round heat and did not advance, told the paper that he has become disillusioned with the worsening political conditions in his homeland. He said he’s not alone: Three of his fellow Eritrean teammates, out of a delegation of only 12 athletes, have also sought asylum but are reluctant to go public because they fear their families may get into trouble back home.
Eritrea was among the top 10 countries of origin for people seeking asylum in the U.K last year, along with Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iran, according to the London-based charity Refugee Council. The northeastern African country also has a past record for missing athletes: In 2009, an entire Eritrean national soccer team defected during a tournament in Kenya.
BADMINTON ‘HICCUP’: The head of the international badminton federation said the playing-to-lose scandal that led to eight players being disqualified from the London Olympics was only a “hiccup” that should not reflect badly on the sport in the long term.
Four women’s doubles pairs were thrown out of the Olympics after trying to lose their last group matches in hopes of gaining an easier path to the final.
Thomas Lund, the head of the Badminton World Federation, said in a statement Wednesday that “our disciplinary committee went in and sent out a strong message that this is not acceptable.”
UGANDAN HERO: The country’s only medal winner at the London Olympics cried tears of joy as hundreds of people welcomed him home on Wednesday with celebrations of music and dance in honor of the African nation’s first gold since the 1972 games in Munich.
Stephen Kiprotich’s victory in the men’s marathon race also was Uganda’s first medal of any kind since the Atlanta Olympics 16 years ago and was deeply felt by the nation. Lawmakers want to declare him a national hero and Ugandans are hailing him as a role model for their children. His boss has promised to promote him at work and $100,000 has been collected in a fundraising campaign whose goal is to collect half a million dollars for the runner’s benefit.