Officials have launched a search for Eritrea’s national football team after the players reportedly failed to return home following a tournament in Kenya.
The Eritreans were knocked out of the Cecafa competition for East and Central African nations last week.
But when the team plane landed back home, it was reportedly only carrying the coach and an official.
The government, which is frequently accused of repression, denies any players are missing.
But the country’s football federation confirmed to Cecafa head Nicholas Musonye that the players had not returned.
Mr Musonye told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme it was the third time the Eritrean team had failed to return home after a tournament.
“The Eritrean federation have done their best to bring a team to the competition – unfortunately these boys had other ideas,” he said.
“Definitely they are in Nairobi – we have so many Eritreans here – they must be somewhere.”
He said he would establish the facts and hand the details on to the police.
The UN says hundreds of Eritreans flee the country every month.
Critics say the country’s repressive government, poverty and a harsh national service regime forces many to leave.
But the government denies that Eritreans are fleeing and accuses the UN of lying about the figures
Five Eritrean have already been granted political asylum
The Herald club golf /NEWS/
A group of eight who have joined Shettleston Harriers could reshape the Scottish athletics team and re-write the record books when they become eligible, though that won’t be until 2013 at the earliest.
The Glasgow East End club has an honourable history of community conscience, dating back to when Allan Scally of Broomhouse funded soup kitchens during the Depression from his winnings. He is commemorated in an annual autumn road relay. The club has welcomed the Eritreans, six of whom ran in Edinburgh at the world cross-country championships on March 30, and have signed them as members.
They declined to return home to the military where forced labour, imprisonment, and torture are rife. Stripping down a Kalachnikov is part of their studies. Army prisoners, deserters and conscription evaders are routinely sent to prison camps on the islands of Dahlak and Naqira, the latter being where Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie once sent political prisoners who were rarely seen again.
The club has bought them kit and shoes. Glasgow running shop Achilles Heel provided eight pairs of racing shoes at cost price on hearing of their plight, and four of the men will make their competitive debut in Shettleston’s blue and gold on Wednesday evening in a 10k race at Troon.
Tsegai Tewelde, a world junior 1500m finalist at 16, urgently needs physiotherapy treatment for an injury, but has no money to pay for it. They arrived with just a few dollars between them and were billeted in the Red Road flats.
The three girls in the team which ran at Holyrood will make their debut in the women-only 10k in Glasgow in a fortnight.
One Eritrean, Tsrgezeab Woldemichael, won the Tom Scott road race recently.
He covered the 10-mile Lanarkshire course in a record 50min 20sec.
John Mackay, the club’s spokesman who has paid their race entry fees, said: “They say they want to train like us, but we’ve explained to them that they are the ones who have got the training right. We want to train like them.
“They have already arranged to have their coach in Eritrea email their schedules. We are surprised these sessions seem relatively easy. However, that may be because the schedules are geared to training at altitude.”
Tewelde, was one of three Eritreans in the top 20 in the junior race in Edinburgh (the first Brit was 24th). The younger brother of defending champion Zersenay Tadesse was selected but was stranded in Cairo, waiting for a visa. Otherwise the team which won world silver last year would have been in contention again. The group also includes a 13:35 5000m runner and a 62-minute half marathoner.
Kokob Mehari was just 16 when she finished 78th in the senior short course race at the world championships. She has since won bronze at 800 and 1500m in an African continent junior event. Her 1500m best of 4:20.1, aged 16, is more than two seconds faster than the Scottish record for that age. It was once held by World, European, and Commonwealth champion Yvonne Murray. In Edinburgh Mehari beat four of the GB team.
Chichi Germai says her best marathon and half marathon times are 2:40 and 75 minutes respectively. No more than modestly decent, until she says: “That was in Asmara.” Her country’s capital lies at nearly 8000 feet.
Britain’s current best male endurance athlete is also from the Horn of Africa. Mo Farah arrived from Somalia aged eight. He is now European silver medallist at 5000m. Tomas Abyu, the No.2 GB marathoner, fled from Ethiopia. Two former members of Britain’s team, Birhane Dagne and Kidane Tadesse, are Ethiopia-born. They were granted asylum when they declined to go home after a world championship on Tyneside, but the culture shock is stressful, and another Ethiopian athlete died in England in tragic circumstances.
“We would welcome such athletes, subject to compliance with the rules. They would have to be selected by Scottishathletics, have a GB passport and be resident here,” said Scottish Commonwealth Games Council chief executive Jon Doig. The time frame would mean Glasgow 2014 at the earliest.
Scottishathletics is aware of the arrival of the Eritreans, confirms chief executive Geoff Wightman, and they are in touch with Shettleston. It may be five years before they can run for Scotland, but there is the potential for a rare learning experience.
Shettleston Harriers are already alert to it.