GOLD COAST, Australia (Reuters) - Organizers have urged athletes in Australia for the Commonwealth Games to respect the terms of their entry visas after Cameroon reported that a third of their team had gone missing on Wednesday.
The accreditation to major multi-sports Games acts as a short-term visa to the host country and more than 100 athletes overstayed after the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Commonwealth Games organizing committee chairman Peter Beattie said they had worked hard with the Australian government on the entry system and he “encouraged” the 6,000 visiting athletes and officials not to breach the terms of their visas.
“I would simply say enjoy Australia while you are here, this includes Cameroon and any other athletes, stay within the law and be mindful of the fact that there is a system in place in this country,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.
“We would appreciate them sticking within the law, enjoying themselves, but sticking within the law. If they are thinking of doing anything other, I would encourage them not to do it.”
The Cameroon team reported to Queensland Police that five boxers and three weightlifters had gone missing from the Athletes’ Village in three waves from Sunday to Wednesday.
“The Cameroon Commonwealth Games Team is sad to announce that eight of the 24 athletes they took to... Gold Coast... are missing from their respective rooms in the Games village,” the team later said in a statement.
Queensland Police said it was a “matter for the Cameroon Commonwealth Games Association to address” until such point that the athletes overstayed their visas.
The fact that two of the Cameroonian athletes had failed to take part in their events particularly saddened Commonwealth Games Federation chief David Grevemberg.
“I think it’s disappointing that athletes that have come didn’t compete as they were scheduled to compete,” he said.
“(But) I think it’s important to remember that these athletes are guests and within their visas they have the right to travel freely, but this is obviously an issue that Team Cameroon is monitoring very closely.”
Illegal immigration is a highly contentious political issue in Australia and Peter Dutton, the country’s Home Affairs Minister, issued a warning to athletes in January that they would be deported if they overstayed.
“It happens at every Games and it’s not a surprise,” Beattie added. “There are mechanisms in place and they haven’t breached their visas. If there is a breach then Peter Dutton and his department will deal with it.
“I don’t want to be too blase about it but there are mechanisms to deal with it and it will be dealt with in the right way by that department.
“We’re organizing a sporting event, if there are breaches of visas, they will deal with it.”
Cameroon’s remaining two weightlifters, along with the country’s basketball team, were already heading home, the team added.
Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford and Ken Ferris