Lifestyle & Belief

Eritrea's national soccer team disappears, believed defected


In December 2009 a dozen players from Eritrea's national football team (above) went missing after a competition in Kenya and on Monday half of Eritrean club side Red Sea FC pulled the same trick disappearing after a tournament in Tanzania.



Most of Eritrea's national soccer team has disappeared, believed to have defected after a tournament in Uganda.

Seventeen of the squad's 22 players, plus the team doctor, failed to turn up for their flight home today, BBC Sport reported.

They haven't been seen since Sunday, the day after they played their final match in the Cecafa Cup, a regional tournament organized by the the Council for East and Central Africa Football Association and held this year in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

One of the players told Radio France International that he and his teammates had defected in order to escape the repressive Eritrean government led by President Isaias Afwerki.

The unnamed player said the group was hiding out in Kampala until they could file an application for asylum, though they knew the Eritrean authorities were looking for them.

The Ugandan security forces have also joined the search, according to the BBC, which said that the players' pictures would be printed in newspapers to help track them down.

It's not the first time Eritrean footballers have left for a match and never come back.

As GlobalPost reported last year, half of Red Sea FC, a premiership team based in Eritrea's capital, Asmara, never took their flight home after playing in a competition in Tanzania. Five years before that, four Red Sea players disappeared in Kenya, while eight members of the national side ran away from another regional tournament. And another six players jumped ship after the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.

Sports-related defections are so common, in fact, writes GlobalPost's Tristan McConnell, that Eritrea's government even introduced a rule that all travelling athletes must pay a $6,700 deposit before departure, "which is only returned if they do."

For some athletes, evidently, it's a price they're willing to pay.

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