Ten members, including an official, of Sri Lanka’s 2022 Commonwealth Games contingent have mysteriously disappeared in Birmingham in a suspected bid to remain in Britain to escape deboarding to a cash-strapped nation, according to officials.
The nine athletes and a manager went missing after completing their events last week, forcing Sri Lankan officials at the games and the British police to jump into action.
It started with two members of the judo team and a wrestler disappearing from the games village in Birmingham without warning, prompting other seven athletes to follow suit.
An official told AFP on condition of anonymity that “seven have vanished” since the first three people were gone without informing others.
“We suspect they want to remain in the UK, possibly to get employment,” the official said.
British police have located the first three people who went missing but no action was taken against them as they had not violated any laws and had visas valid for six months.
Sri Lankan Olympic committee said wrestler Yoda Pedige Shanith Chathuranga left the games’ village on Thursday. The other two from the judo team, judoka Marappulige Chamila Dilan and judo official Tikiri Hannadige Duminda Asela De Silva, also left the village during same time.
They were part of a Sri Lankan contingent of 160 athletes and officials and their passports were kept with the management in accordance with the protocol.
However, an official said the management returned the passports to the athletes.
It comes as Sri Lanka is in the midst of a deep and unprecedented economic crisis that has triggered country-wide mass protests and clashes for months, forcing the president to quit and flee the country.
The country is suffering a severe foreign exchange shortage which has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine, with fuel shortages forcing school closures and rationing.
But it is not the first time Sri Lankans or athletes from other countries have gone missing from a major sporting event in a foreign country.
In October last year, Sri Lanka’s wrestling manager Donald Indrawansa abandoned his team and disappeared in Norway during the United World Wrestling championships, in a suspected case of his attempt to remain in Europe.
A number of African athletes vanished from a tournament in Australia in 2018. In 2002, other 26 athletes vanished during the Manchester Games.