Twelve of the Sierra Leone athletes who fled the games village have now
been located, but another two team-mates are still on the run. That’s
on top of the more than 20 athletes who went missing from the Manchester
Commonwealth Games
in 2002, all of whom are still missing. So what
makes these people so desperate to avoid returning home? A glance at
the country’s stats offers a clue:

  • The West African country of Sierra Leone is the poorest and one of the most
    corrupt in the world. More than 80% of its people live on less than
    $A1.30 a day.
  • Over 90% of women have experienced Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or Female Circumcision.
  • The government is slowly re-establishing its authority after the 1991 to
    2002 civil war
    that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the
    displacement of more than 2 million people (about one-third of the
    population). During the civil war, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), at times joined by
    renegade elements of the former Sierra Leonean army, committed widespread
    and systematic violations against civilians including amputation, rape, and
    forced conscription of children. Their aim was to terrorise the population
    into submission and wrest control of the country’s rich diamond resources.
  • The last UN peacekeepers withdrew in December 2005,
    leaving full responsibility for security with domestic forces, but a
    new civilian UN office remains to support the government. Mounting
    tensions related to planned 2007 elections, deteriorating political and
    economic conditions in Guinea, and the tenuous security situation in
    neighbouring Liberia may present challenges to continuing progress in
    Sierra Leone’s stability.

No wonder the Commonwealth Games are “like starting a new life” for Sierra Leone’s athletes.