Want to escape your repressive government? Join a football team, travel the world, don’t come back.
In 2009 the Eritrea national side came to Kenya for a regional tournament and, after playing a decent game but being knocked out in the quarter-finals, a dozen squad members absconded.
This weekend it was the turn of half the squad of Eritrean club side Red Sea FC who failed to turn up for their flight out of Dar es Salaam after being defeated in the semi-finals of a regional competition.
“Thirteen out of 26 players of the Eritrean team have disappeared,” said Angentile Osiah, secretary general of the Tanzania Football Federation. “We have reported the matter to relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation.”
Osiah said the players who did turn up for the flight out helped their disappearing team mates by getting passports stamped and the absence of half the squad was only noticed when a headcount was taken.
Red Sea FC is the country’s leading team with seven premiership titles since the league was inaugurated in 1994 but it has lost players before. In 2006 four players made off while playing in Kenya. The same year eight members of the national side also ran away from another regional tournament.
Eritrean footballers have absconded from tournaments in the past. In 2006 eight members of the national side and another four from the same Red Sea FC made their escape while playing in regional tournaments.
Eritrea is one of the world’s leading sources of asylum seekers with many tens of thousands escaping Isaias Afwerke’s oppressive regime every year. Playing sports is one of the only ways to avoid military conscription and to travel outside the country.
To combat sports-related defections Eritrea’s government to begin charging all travelling athletes a $6,700 deposit which is only returned if they do.