There are not many Commonwealth Games countries where French is the first language.

Step forward Cameroon - the West African nation which gained independence from France in 1960 and went on to join the Commonwealth of Nations in 1995.

Cameroon proves that not everybody at the Commonwealth Games has strong past links to the British Empire.

But that does not mean that the country feels any less part of the group of nations which will gather this year at Birmingham 2022.

"In Cameroon we value the Commonwealth Games second to the Olympic Games," said Ayuk Lawrence Ayuketang, the country's Birmingham Chef de Mission, to insidethegames.

"It's a very important Games and there are many stakeholders who work with a lot of energy to make sure Team Cameroon is given the best preparation.

"Ever since Cameroon was admitted into the Commonwealth of Nations it has always done its best in respecting the roadmap of the Commonwealth, both the administrative section and the sporting section.

"We have taken part in all of the Commonwealth Games [since joining] and every year Cameroon celebrates Commonwealth Week and Commonwealth Day."

Commonwealth Week is currently in progress and is lasting slightly longer than just seven days.

Cameroon has embraced the Commonwealth Games since joining the Movement in 1995 ©Getty Images
Cameroon has embraced the Commonwealth Games since joining the Movement in 1995 ©Getty Images

"We started on February 28 and are ending on March 14 [Commonwealth Day] so it's almost close to a month," said Ayuketang. 

"It shows the degree of respect and involvement that Cameroon has with the Commonwealth of Nations.

"Many activities have been put in place. People are taught 'what are the objectives of the Commonwealth?' and 'what can the Commonwealth offer Cameroon?' - all of those things. 

"It is a continuous process and a continuous sensitisation of the population. 

"As the years go by, there is better knowledgeability about the Commonwealth in the entire nation." 

Cameroon's Commonwealth affiliation is perhaps best summed up by the attempts to promote cricket - the quintessentially English sport.

A match will take place at the end of Commonwealth Week after the sport was first introduced to the country by a Commonwealth Students and Youth Development Organisation scheme.

Female players are a big part of the sport's push, which is fitting as a women's T20 tournament will return cricket to the Commonwealth Games programme for the first time since 1998 in Birmingham.

"Cricket is a new sport but we have so much love for it," Ayuketang said.

"I am one of the first group of cricket coaches who has been trained in Cameroon. 

"The young girls and boys who are involved in cricket have fallen in love with the game and they will not spend a week without thinking of playing. 

"The President [of the Cricket Federation] is very dynamic and has made sure that schools all over Cameroon are getting involved. 

"Cricket is gaining ground in Cameroon and the only difficulty we have is infrastructure. 

Cricket is an emerging sport in Cameroon with efforts underway to promote growth ©Getty Images
Cricket is an emerging sport in Cameroon with efforts underway to promote growth ©Getty Images

"If Cameroon is able to have an oval, just one oval, it would blossom the participation. The other countries keep encouraging us. 

"In a dominantly French speaking country the terminology in cricket is a big challenge." 

At Birmingham 2022, Cameroon is hoping to take around 50 athletes in athletics, Para-athletics, badminton, boxing, judo, swimming, weightlifting, wrestling and powerlifting.

The physical sports will be given particular focus and they have traditionally been very kind to Cameroon.

At the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games, on just their second appearance, the country returned home with nine gold medals, all in weightlifting.

They have only claimed one more title since then, and also have 10 silver medals and 14 bronzes in their total haul.

"Cameroon is a country blessed with naturally powerful boys and girls," said Ayuketang. 

"You can see that from our performance in weightlifting.

"There are some disciplines where a lot of effort is put. 

"If you have children in the family there are some who you pay more attention to, you cannot explain why! 

"There are some disciplines that have caught the attention of the Olympic Committee and we are looking forward to those.

"Judo has very hard working athletes and the coaches are really doing their best. 

"Powerlifting, wrestling, weightlifting - these four disciplines we are looking forward to having our best results. 

"We have some athletes in these disciplines that we have so much hope on them. 

"But it's too early to announce that we have 'this person or this person'. 

Françoise Mbango Etone won two Olympic gold medals for Cameroon in triple jump ©Getty Images
Françoise Mbango Etone won two Olympic gold medals for Cameroon in triple jump ©Getty Images

"We're human beings and no-one knows how the state or the form of the athlete will be in the next two or three months. 

"For the Commonwealth Games, we still have a good way to go in terms of athlete preparation, in terms of form, and in terms of their overall expectant performance."

Ayuketang, from the "English" part of Cameroon, is serving as Chef de Mission for the first time.

The country's sporting heroes include triple jumper Françoise Mbango Etone, the back-to-back Olympic gold medallist at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 who Ayuketang describes as an "icon".

Football is of course universally loved, with the country producing stars such as former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o who won Olympic gold in Sydney in 2000.

Eto'o, who also played for clubs including Inter Milan and Chelsea, scored in the Olympic final as his side drew 2-2 against Spain and he netted again in the penalty shoot-out as the Africans won 5-3.

No discussion of Cameroon football can take place without mentioning Roger Milla, after the forward's sublime performances at the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy.

Then aged 38, Milla was always named as a substitute but came off the bench to score four times as his country made a dream run to the quarter-finals.

At the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Milla broke his own record as the oldest scorer at the tournament when he registered against Russia at the age of 42.

Although his side lost 6-1, it gave him the chance to replicate his famous dancing celebrations by the corner flag.

"There are names that every Cameroonian would never forget, even the children," said Ayuketang. "They know of Françoise Mbango, they know of Samuel Eto'o Fils and Roger Milla. 

"These ones nobody can forget."

Cameroon won nine gold medals in weightlifting at the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images
Cameroon won nine gold medals in weightlifting at the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

Ayuketang said the COVID-19 pandemic had severely limited the opportunities for Cameroonian athletes to compete, with sport at all levels halted for more than a year by a Prime Ministerial decree.

Cameroon has hosted two major football events - the African Nations Championship and the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) - during the coronavirus era which has stretched resources.

This included staff being paid double what was budgeted as restrictions meant work took two years to complete instead of one.

The AFCON, which took place a year later than planned in January and February this year, was hit by tragedy after eight people died following a stampede at Olembe Stadium, during Cameroon's quarter-final with Comoros. 

"COVID has really impeded on the performances and participation at international and local level," said Ayuketang. 

"The advent of COVID restricted our athletes from taking part in many competitions. 

"It's like teaching - all teaching without evaluation is null and void. You can only know that you are taught well after you evaluate, when you can see if you are learning something or not. 

"Athletes trained hard but by the time of competition they could not go. So we do not know at what level to evaluate them, because most of them have had this issue of not being able to travel. 

"We are very thankful to the magnanimity of the Commonwealth Games Federation who have decided to grant them another opportunity by inviting most of them with a bipartite invitation. 

"We requested this for some athletes who had past performances which were remarkable."

Ayuketang believes the COVID hiatus will have added fuel to the fire of athletes who are set to compete in Birmingham.

"I think it's going to be successful," he said. 

Roger Milla's World Cup goals - and corner flag celebrations - have become iconic ©Getty Images
Roger Milla's World Cup goals - and corner flag celebrations - have become iconic ©Getty Images

"We had a very small delegation at the Tokyo Olympic Games and most of our athletes did not take part. 

"It is commonly said that 'a hungry man is an angry man'. 

"The athletes who are going to qualify for Birmingham, they are going to come with a sort of vengeance, upon themselves. 

"They have been starved for a long time and now they are coming to eat all of the food that is going to be set on the table for them. 

"They have been down for so long, but now they are saying 'I have an opportunity to showcase what I have'.

"'I have been training, training, training, and now it's time for me to explode.'"