News / Africa

Some African Olympians Choose to Defect After Games

Eritrea's flag bearer Weynay Ghebresilasie holds the national flag as he leads the contingent in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, July 27, 2012.
Eritrea's flag bearer Weynay Ghebresilasie holds the national flag as he leads the contingent in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, July 27, 2012.
Anita Powell
JOHANNESBURG — The 2012 Olympics ended recently but some of the athletes have stayed behind in Britain. About a dozen African competitors have chosen to defect, including the man who carried the flag for Eritrea. 

Uganda’s gold medal-winning marathoner returned home this week to a parade, a presidential welcome and a check for $80,000.

Not all of Africa’s Olympians have been welcomed home like Uganda's Stephen Kiprotich.

In fact, at least a dozen appear to have left the Olympic village and sought asylum in Britain.

First, seven athletes in Cameroon's delegation left the Olympic village with no explanation during the Games.  Their whereabouts are still unknown.  Sources close to the Cameroonian delegation in London had told Voice of America that the athletes defected to seek economic opportunities abroad.

Then a United Nations-run radio station reported that four members of Congo's Olympic delegation had disappeared.

And most recently, the man chosen to carry Eritrea's flag at the opening ceremony, steeplechase runner Weynay Ghebresilasie sought political asylum along with three other members of the Eritrean delegation.  Those three have asked not to be identified out of fear for their safety.

The Eritrean athletes join dozens of their fellow citizens who have defected over the last decade.  Among them, entire soccer [football] teams.

Weynay, who did not make the finals in the men's steeplechase, said he felt that conditions at home seemed to be getting worse.
 
Aaron Berhane, a Toronto-based spokesman for the Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change group, says the athletes left for the same reason as so many thousands of other Eritreans who have fled.

"In Eritrea, we have a very dictatorial regime," he said. "There is no freedom of speech, there is no freedom of movement, there is no freedom of religion.  The country is under a totalitarian government."

These disappearing African athletes have several things in common. All come from nations crippled by poverty, corruption and longtime leaders who refuse to relinquish power.

Cameroon has been led since 1982 by President Paul Biya, who has been criticized for becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, was reelected last year.  The electoral results were rejected by the opposition.

And Eritrea has been led for all of its existence by one man, President Isaias Afwerki.  He took power when the nation gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

Rights groups say Mr. Isaias' administration has jailed countless political opponents, repressed freedoms and repeatedly postponed elections.  Army service is mandatory.

Among the conscripts, said London-based Bereket Khasai, was Weynay, who spent more than his required 18 months in the service and still could not leave the army.

Bereket, another member of the Eritrean group who has been in constant contact with Weynay, says the young man is physically and psychologically exhausted.  

He says Weynay was questioned for 11 hours on Thursday and is now in detention, hopefully with the intent of having his asylum request expedited.

"He didn’t plan to seek asylum before he came to the U.K. hoping that things would get better in the future in the country for him and for his people and his family, and unfortunately he realized day by day  that things are going wrong, especially when he came to the Olympics and obviously experienced similar treatment by the Eritrean federation for sport, so that's when he decided to claim asylum, once he competed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase," Bereket said.

Also, not one of the defecting athletes has won a medal.

Bereket says that had Weynay won a medal, things might have been different.  But he says the athletes complained that they were mistreated and under-trained by their national delegation while in London.

This year's rash of defections is in contrast to the last Olympics.

Only one athlete attempted to defect from the Beijing Games.  That was Cameroonian athlete Thomas Essomba, but changed his mind there.  He was among those who left their teams in London.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid