Five missing athletes from the Cameroonian Olympic boxing team who surfaced at a New Cross gym last week don’t want to be “asylum seekers” and hope to support themselves by joining the British professional circuit, according to coaches.
Trainers at the Double Jab Amateur Boxing Club in Fordham Park said the boxers, who had been training there, have been helping train local kids and will meet with industry professionals on Friday to discuss their plight.
Thomas Essomba, Christian Donfack Adjoufack, Yhyacinthe Mewoli Abdon, Blaise Yepmou Mendouo, and Serge Ambomo disappeared from the Olympic village in early August after being beaten in their final bout – only to turn up in Lewisham.
Jim Addis, the club’s competition secretary, told EastLondonLines: “They’ve been brilliant with the kids in here. We were in there [the other room, with a ring in it] watching sparring on Monday night, and we came in here and three of the lads were taking a couple of 13 and 14 year-olds on the pads.
“Obviously they don’t speak a word of English, but boxing is universal. You hold a pad, you know that’s a jab, you know that’s a hook. It’s buzzing down here now. They’re helping out a lot with their experience.”
The five have visas to stay in London until November under their original agreements, but are looking for ways to extend their stay. It is unknown why they do not want to return to Cameroon.
Addis said: “They basically don’t want to be coming into the country and taking money. They want to earn a living as professional boxers. They can’t get a trade and the only thing they know how to do is box. The only way for them to progress in their lives is to become professional boxers.
“We’ve got this philosophy, and it will be the same up and down the country: we don’t care about colour, race, religion, problems or politics. They get left at the door. Once you walk through this door, no matter where you’re from and what you do, once you are in here you are a boxer and we will treat you as one.“
Volunteers say they have been impressed with the work ethic of the athletes, who have been mixing happily with the other members and bringing extra exposure to the club.
The gym has seen extra investment in the last few months with local patrons organising a complete rebrand. It is still struggling for funds and users.
Head coach Patrick Harris said he wanted to help the five in boxing terms as much as he could. He told EastLondonLines: “There’s not much we can do with regards to their immigration problems, but boxing is a universal thing.
“If you’re a boxer, you identify with another boxer no matter what world they come from. It’s similar to a sort of sanctuary, somewhere where they can identify with people. Five nights a week they are here.
“We’ve got plenty of contacts. We are taking them to see certain people at the moment. Tomorrow we are going to a boxing match at York Hall and there will be a lot of influential people there: professional boxers and managers. We’re going to take two of them and try to explain their plight and see what they think and what they can do.”