HARARE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) -- Eight Zimbabwean soccer players and two officials deserted their teams after a tour of Britain, joining thousands of fellow citizens who have sought refuge abroad over a serious political and economic crisis at home.
Zimbabwe football officials confirmed Saturday that six players and two officials from premier league champions CAPS United and two players from Highlanders FC had "disappeared."
Some went missing at Heathrow airport just before their return flight home on Thursday night, and are seeking to stay in Britain illegally.
"Yes, I can confirm that we are worried that some players and officials who did not return on their scheduled flights have actually joined those in the diaspora," a Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) official said.
Some 40 CAPS and Highlanders players and officials travelled to Bradford a week ago for a friendly match between the two clubs organized by some Zimbabweans there, but which the local media said was not sanctioned by the English Football Association.
The two teams were scheduled to return home in batches over the past week, but their program was thrown into disarray last Saturday when some of the players disappeared from camp soon after their match, officials said.
An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans -- a quarter of the national population -- have sought jobs and homes abroad, many of them illegally, as a result of a political and economic crisis blamed on President Robert Mugabe's increasingly controversial rule.
Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans are living and working illegally in Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial master.