Gay in Cameroon: National team bans fastest-ever hurdler

Suspended from the Cameroon track team last year for  homosexuality, record-setting athlete fights to revive his career.

Thierry Essamba, Cameroon's record holder in the 110-meter hurdles. (Photo courtesy of Thierry Essamba)

Thierry Essamba, Cameroon’s record holder in the 110-meter hurdles. (Photo courtesy of Thierry Essamba)

Date: Aug. 8, 2015
Event: Central Africa Track and Field Championships
Location: Yaoundé, Cameroon

On Aug. 8, Thierry Essamba suffered a setback — another setback.

Just as in 2014, he was again forbidden from competing because of his sexual orientation. He is said to be gay.

The fact that he is the fastest hurdler in Cameroon — the nation’s record-holder in the 110-meter hurdles — didn’t secure him the right to compete again for the gold.

He was expelled from the national team in 2014 because of his sexual orientation.  This year, he recalls his emotions as the Central Africa Track and Field Championships got under way:

“I felt so bad. I wondered if I were no longer a Cameroonian. I heard the national anthem resounding in the stadium and heard its words, ‘O Cameroon, cradle of our ancestors.’  I felt someone had just thrown me out of Cameroon.

“I cried. I felt excluded from the country that I love so much. “

His thoughts about his latest rejection tear at the heart.

Much has happened since May 25, 2014, when Essamba was expelled from the squad by Michel Nkolo, the technical director of Cameroon’s national track team.

Soon afterward, Essamba’s family evicted him from his home because of his sexual orientation. He was left with no means of support.

A former friend started telling people that Essamba was homosexual, which many Cameroonians believe means that he is also a child abuser. He is not.

He fell into depression and tried to commit suicide.

But he did not do that — and he did not give up on racing. He kept training in the 110-meter hurdles. He ran faster.

He found track meets where he could run — five competitions in Cameroon so far this year. Those races included the finals for Mfoundi state, where Thierry lives and where the nation’s capital, Yaoundé, is located.

Thierry Essamba (Photo de sa page Facebook)

Thierry Essamba (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

In July, at an inter-club meet, he ran the 110-meter hurdles in 14.3 seconds — the fastest official time ever recorded by a Cameroonian hurdler. The previous national record of 14.31 seconds was set by Francis Kaméni in 1990.

Essamba had posted a time of 14.0 seconds in a preliminary race in the Francophone Games of 2013, but that time has not officially recognized by the Cameroonian track federation.

“The problem came from the national technical director,  Michel Nkolo. The secretary-general of the federation asked him to approve my record, but he refused,” Essamba said.

Essamba won a gold medal for Cameroon in the 2013 Central African Championships in Brazzaville, Congo, winning the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 15.92 seconds.

Essamba’s hard work reaffirmed his leadership in the 110 meter hurdles.
But unfortunately, although he is talented and passionate about running, he may not compete on the national team because he is homosexual,  according to the leaders of the Cameroon Athletics Federation.

So on Aug. 8, 2015, Nkolo had not forgotten the vow he made last year that Essamba would never run for Cameroon again as long as Nkolo was alive. At the championships in August, Essamba appealed Nkolo’s decision, but to no avail.

At this point, Essamba hopes he can be invited to compete internationally, but has not found a club that would do that.

In January, his desperate circumstances were well enough known that he received assistance from an international organization for the protection of human rights. That aid covered his living expenses through the summer and allowed him to pay six months’ rent for a studio apartment.

Now his outlook is again unclear, but his passion for running remains intact. He is still determined to become an international champion.

2 thoughts on “Gay in Cameroon: National team bans fastest-ever hurdler

  1. Pingback: Cameroon: A productive life wrecked by homophobia | 76 CRIMES

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