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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 11:15 GMT
Athletes 'go missing from Games'
Commonwealth Games 2006 logo
Visiting athletes are issued sporting visas for the Games
Nine athletes have gone missing from the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australian police say.

Seven are from Sierra Leone and have not been seen for two days. The others are from Tanzania and Bangladesh.

Team officials have said they have no idea if the athletes are hoping to apply for asylum in Australia.

Officially, they have not breached any immigration rules because they have been issued with special visas for the Games, valid for another month.

It is not the nicest thing to do to the host country and your team mates to walk out
Sierra Leone team spokesman
Robert Green

Most of the missing Sierra Leoneans are members of the athletics team, while another is a weightlifter. Together, they make up about a third of their country's Commonwealth Games contingent.

Sierra Leone team officials would not identify the missing athletes but said their disappearance had "dampened the team spirit".

"Obviously there is a feeling that it is not the nicest thing to do to the host country and your team mates to walk out," said Sierra Leone team spokesman Robert Green.

Special visas

2002 Commonwealth Games: 21 Sierra Leoneans, 5 Bangladeshis, 1 Pakistani missing in Manchester
2002 Asian Games: 12 Nepalese, 3 Sri Lankans and 1 Mongolian missing in S Korea
2000 Sydney Olympics: 80 officials and athletes overstay visas, 11 cases unresolved

They have joined what has become a growing list of unaccounted-for athletes.

Earlier this week a boxer from Tanzania and a 400m runner from Bangladesh went missing, sparking fears they would try to remain in Australia illegally.

Australia's Immigration Department said the athletes' special Games visas expire on 26 April, and they would not become involved until after that date.

In the meantime, the police are treating the case as a missing persons investigation and have urged anyone with information about the missing athletes to contact them.

During the last Commonwealth Games in the UK city of Manchester more than 20 athletes from Sierra Leone disappeared.


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