Fri, Mar 24, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Athletes vanish at Melbourne Games

MYSTERYNine athletes are now missing after seven members of Sierra Leone's Commonwealth Games team disappeared

AP , MELBOURNE

Anuja Jung of India prepared to pose for photographers after winning the women's 50m rifle competition at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne yesterday. Jung won with a score of 670.7, with Esmari Van Reenen of South Africa taking silver with 670.0 and Mohamed Nur of Malaysia taking bronze with 668.0.

PHOTOS: AFP

Seven Sierra Leonean athletes have joined a Tanzanian boxer and a Bangladeshi runner on the Commonwealth Games missing list.

Six track and field athletes and a weightlifter -- four men and three women -- from the Sierra Leone team were last seen in the athletes' village on Tuesday night.

Robert Green, spokesman for the Sierra Leone contingent, yesterday declined to identify the missing athletes, but did confirm that the three women had failed to compete in a scheduled relay event.

Several athletes from Sierra Leone, an African country impoverished after years of civil war, went missing during the Manchester 2002 Games.

Green said he was not aware of any special conditions placed on Sierra Leone athletes entering Australia and there were no "formal concerns" for the missing athletes.

Although, he said, "if someone goes missing, naturally you have concerns for their safety."

Only one of the athletes was carrying a passport.

"It's the usual practice because athletes are notorious for losing things that the team leader holds the passports for safekeeping," Green said.

All visiting competitors were granted a visa until April 26 with their credentials.

"It's up to Melbourne 2006 as to whether they revoke the credentials of the athletes -- in that case, the visa would be void as well," Green said.

Most of the team was due to return to Africa late tomorrow, a night ahead of the closing ceremonies, although there were some cyclists who had to compete in the road race on the final day and were not due to leave until next Tuesday.

Victoria state police were treating the case as a missing persons investigation.

"We don't have any concerns for their welfare, [but] we'd like to know they're all right," a police spokesman told reporters on the customary condition of anonymity.

Police said immigration authorities would not become involved until any athlete overstayed his or her visa.

In the meantime, Tanzanian boxer Omari Idd Kimweri and Mohammad Tawhidul Islam, a 400m runner from Bangladesh, have not been located since being reported missing from the village on Monday.

Meanwhile, two Indian weightlifters have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, escalating a doping scandal that has loomed over the Commonwealth Games and the sport for weeks.

Indian team officials told reporters they were notified late yesterday that Edwin Raju, who was fourth in the 56kg division, and Tejinder Singh, who withdrew from the 85kg division, failed tests in Melbourne four days before the March 15 opening ceremonies.

Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper would not confirm the reports.

India faces up to a five-year ban from all international weightlifting competition if the charges are confirmed following analysis of B samples.

Indian chef de mission H.J. Dora, who is also head of India's national weightlifting federation, said it would be "premature" to comment on any positive tests.

"If someone's not clean there's a process to be followed by the organizers," he said.

The doping allegations overshadowed Jamaica's sweep of the 100m and 200m sprint titles in athletics, with the last coming from Sherone Simpson's upset over Olympic champion and teammate Veronica Campbell in the women's 200m.

Simpson moved up on Campbell's inside with 50m to go and surged ahead to win in 22.59. Campbell clocked 22.72 and South Africa's Geraldine Pillay was third.

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