Ugandan weightlifter missing in Japan during Olympic lockdown


TOKYO – A Ugandan weightlifter who traveled to Japan hoping to compete in the Tokyo Olympics has disappeared from his hotel near an athletic training camp, officials said on Friday.

Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, one of nine Ugandans who had been staying in Izumisano – a town in Osaka prefecture in western Japan – since mid-June was reported missing around noon on Friday when he was not ‘is not presented for a coronavirus test.

Olympic organizers have tried to keep all Games participants in a “bubble” and under strict rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus while they are in the country. Athletes training outside of Japan have been restricted to hotels and training venues.

Organizers recently announced that all spectators will be banned from entering venues in Tokyo, which has declared a state of emergency amid an increase in coronavirus cases.

Last month, a coach and athlete from the Ugandan Olympic delegation tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Japan. It is not clear whether Mr Ssekitoleko was one of them.

Police are carrying out a search, said Katsunobu Kato, chief secretary of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s cabinet. Mr. Kato said that the police and city authorities were making a “total effort” to locate Mr. Ssekitoleko.

According to Salim Musoke, president of the Ugandan Weightlifting Federation, Ssekitoleko did not qualify for the Olympics and was due to return to Uganda on July 20 before the official opening of the Games.

Mr Musoke said on Friday that he last spoke to Mr Ssekitoleko three days ago and was surprised to learn that he had disappeared, given that athletes, coaches and officials had handed in their passports and that the hotel where they were staying was “well guarded.”

“When I got the message, I wondered what was going on if they were well guarded,” Mr Musoke said. “What happened to the security they talked about?”

He was disappointed by the news. “The disappearance of athletes is not good for the country,” Musoke said of Japan, which has been criticized for insisting the Games take place.

“I pray they get this boy,” Mr. Musoke said. “The government of Japan should get this boy back and then we kick him out of the sport.”

According to Yuji Fukuoka, spokesman for Izumisano city, an official who had traveled with the Ugandan delegation checked Mr. Ssekitoleko’s hotel room on Friday, and he was not there.

“All we want is for him to be found as soon as possible,” Fukuoka said. “He may be going through a difficult time. “

A spokesperson for the Tokyo organizing committee said he was aware of the matter. “We understand that the city of Izumisano is looking for the missing person,” the committee said in a statement. “We hope the person will be found very soon. “

Musinguzi Blanshe contributed reporting from Kampala, Uganda.


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