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Missing Cameroon athletes may be looking for 'greener pastures'

By the CNN Wire Staff
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 0958 GMT (1758 HKT)
Cameroon boxer Serge Ambomo is one of the athletes who have gone missing from the Olympics. (File)
Cameroon boxer Serge Ambomo is one of the athletes who have gone missing from the Olympics. (File)
  • An Olympic official from Cameroon believes defection is likely
  • The seven athletes -- six men and a woman -- walked away from the Olympic village
  • Headlines in Cameroon refer to the athletes as "missing"

(CNN) -- The seven missing in London.

That's what the headlines in the West African nation of Cameroon call the athletes who walked away from the Olympic village at the London Games.

The Cameroon athletes -- five male boxers, a female footballer and a male swimmer -- walked away from the Olympic village last week, immediately raising questions about their intentions.

While the Cameroon Olympic delegation has stopped short of saying the athletes planned to defect, at least one member of the country's national Olympic committee believes it's more than likely.

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"Back home, they aren't giving the proper training. They know if they are well trained, they could beat the person from another country," Aka Amuam Joseph told CNN during a recent interview outside a sports training facility in Cameroon. Joseph also serves as a member of the Cameroon Karate Federation.

"It pains them to be here and see people beat them, who they can beat if they are well taken care of."

Nothing has been heard from the athletes since they went missing, said David Ojong, Cameroon's head of mission to London 2012, but said, but their compatriots "hope and believe" the athletes will rejoin the group before they return to Cameroon.

Athletes competing at the London Games have visas that allow them to stay in the United Kingdom until November 8, according to authorities.

Footballer Drusille Ngako, who was one of the team's reserve players, was the first of the seven to disappear. She went missing on July 26, Ojong said.

Swimmer Paul Ekane Edingue and boxers Thomas Essomba, Christian Donfack Adjoufack, Yhyacinthe Abdon Mewoli, Serge Ambomo and Blaise Yepmou Mendouo haven't been seen since last Monday, he said.

The Cameroonian delegation approached the Games organizers and the High Commission of Cameroon in London as soon as they became aware of the missing athletes, Ojong has said.

Pictures of the athletes this week adorned the front pages of newspapers in Cameroon, including Le Jour which carried the banner headline: "The Seven Missing in London."

Since the 1996 Games in Atlanta, dozens of athletes from Cameroon have defected.

Cameroon, with a population of about 20 million, is one of the world's poorest nations, according to the International Monetary Fund.

It has little money to develop top-notch training facilities, one of the reasons Joseph believes the athletes going looking for "greener pastures."

"Why do Nigerians not flee away? Why do people from South Africa not flee away? When you go there, you see infrastructure of the highest level," Joseph said. "Why don't they flee? They know that what they find in Europe, they find back home."

The training facilities in Cameroon are spartan. It's Olympic boxing facility offers just one ring in a building with a concrete floor, peeling paint and wooden spectator benches. Its weight room offers a limited selection and a peeling carpet.

"I am positively convinced that if the government did more in this field, we would have little of this disturbance," Joseph said.

Athletes and team officials have been allowed to seek permission to enter and remain in the United Kingdom without a visa from March 30 to November 8.

CNN's Jo Shelley, Richard Allen Greene and journalist Tapang Ivo contributed to this report.

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