Sheffield, England — Pennsylvania News Today | When boxer Thomas Essomba left the London Olympic Village with his suitcase in 2012, he left his life in Cameroon and started another life from scratch in a country he knew almost nothing about. I did.
Essomba, the captain of his country’s boxing team, disappeared with four other boxers during the Olympics. Of the 37 athletes Cameroon sent to London, seven, including swimmers and women’s soccer players, never returned home after the event. Over the next nine years, Essomba said he had a hard time balancing his longing for a family in Cameroon with his dream of becoming a successful boxer in the UK.
“It was a very, very difficult decision. To be honest, I wasn’t happy,” the 33-year-old told The Associated Press Wednesday in an interview at Jim in Sheffield, Central England. But he added, “UK is my country now. I’m happy to be here. I think everything is okay with the grace of God.”
The story of a young athlete who died at the Olympics often stirs the imagination of the world. This week, Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Zimanoskaya has left the Tokyo Olympics and sought refuge in Poland. Belarusian team officials said she tried to get her home early after she criticized them.
A 24-year-old runner said her move was unplanned and her next move was unclear.
Hundreds of athletes have sought asylum, especially at global sporting events during the Cold War, to escape authoritarian rule or to live better in the West. According to media reports at the time, it was common for 117 athletes to go into exile at the 1972 Munich Olympics and Cuban athletes to go into exile in the United States. At the 2012 London Olympics, several other athletes from other African teams also reportedly disappeared and sought asylum.
Essomba returned home and claimed to have “lived a good life” and did not intend to escape before arriving in London. The reason behind his decision was not entirely clear: the boxer said he had encountered a problem with a Cameroonian government sports official, but did not elaborate. Some of his team reportedly said they were poorly treated at the time.
“The only thing I was scared of was going back and quitting boxing because boxing is everything in my life,” he said of his thoughts at the time. “They don’t like to challenge. I tried to challenge them, and my life was in jeopardy.”
Cameroon, a country of 26 million French-speaking people in Central Africa, has a high poverty rate and significant inequality between rural and urban areas. President Paul Biya has been in power since 1982, and critics have accused him of political repression and persecution of his adversaries.
“It’s been a corrupt, murderous and authoritarian regime for years, and when athletes return to Cameroon, they often have the problem of not being paid, complaining, and feeling at risk. There was, “said researcher Jackie Fernley. An activist who helped Cameroonians seeking asylum in Britain.
Having helped many LGBT people facing routine arrests and imprisonment in Cameroon, Fernley went abroad because of widespread domestic infringement and being considered a dissident. He said some people were trying to evacuate.
Essomba said it was a “very sad, very bad moment” when he left the Olympic Village with his four teammates. His mother, relatives, and children going home relied on him, and he spoke very little English.
“Everything changed when I came here,” he said. “But I said,’Listen, my life first.’ I had to save my life.”
Upon leaving the village, the man took a bus to southern London, found a place to live and stayed there for several weeks. Meanwhile, a lawyer helped with the paperwork to apply for asylum with the British government.At that time, they all had a 6-month visa that allowed them to stay in the UK
“I didn’t know anything about Britain. Even if I applied for asylum, I didn’t know I was supposed to do it,” Essomba said. His application was approved within a year and he soon became a British citizen.
Essomba said he had a moment of regret when things went wrong and he missed his family and home terribly. But he is adapted to life in England. He found a girlfriend and a new friend. He keeps in touch with his family daily on social media and secretly returns to his hometown after gaining British citizenship.
Professionally, he held the title of Federal Flyweight Champion from 2015 to 2017. He said he was fighting to “write my name” by representing Britain at an international competition before retiring and coaching.
“I don’t think I’ll be back because all of my life is in the UK right now,” he said.
“I haven’t achieved my goal yet. My goal is to win the British title. This is my hope,” the boxer added. “So I keep fighting. I believe I’m going to do that.”
Nine years later, Cameroon Olympic boxer talks about asylum in Britain | Sports
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