LONDON, England, Aug 14 – Five Cameroonian boxers who disappeared at the London Olympics said in an interview broadcast Monday that they absconded because they had been threatened by officials in their delegation.
The boxers, who went missing along with two other Cameroonian athletes more than a week ago, said they now wanted to stay in Britain to develop their careers.
“We left the Olympic Village because we were threatened,” boxer Blaise Yepmou Mendouo told BBC television in an interview at a secret location in London.
Speaking in French, Yepmou Mendouo said officials had tried to confiscate some of his teammates’ passports.
He also claimed that Cameroonian officials had halved the boxers’ agreed bonuses.
“We were not happy with that,” he told the broadcaster. “But we decided, the five of us, that as fighters we should fight — because it’s a matter of image.”
The BBC named the other boxers as Thomas Essomba, Christian Donfack Adjoufack, Abdon Mewoli and Serge Ambomo, and their missing teammates as swimmer Paul Ekane Edingue and female footballer Drusille Ngako.
All seven have visas to stay in Britain until November, British Olympic officials said last week.
Essomba told the BBC that the boxers were searching for a sponsor to help them become long-term British residents.
“We are not staying here because we don’t like our country, but (because we) want to practise the sports we love,” he said.
“We want to become professional. We cannot return to Cameroon,” he added. “If we return, we will not practise anymore.”
The head of the Cameroon delegation to the Olympics, David Ojong, was quoted by the BBC as saying that the boxers were lying, that they had never been threatened and were making up the allegation to justify their desertion.
Cameroon, which has a poverty rate of nearly 40 percent according to the World Bank, struggles to meet the basic needs of many of its people.
A third of the west African country’s 20-million-strong population do not have access to drinking water or electricity, and one in four people lives on less than 1.1 euros a day.
Experts put the unemployment rate at 30 percent in the capital Yaounde and Cameroon’s biggest city Douala.