Who is Julius Ssekitoleko? Ugandan weightlifter goes missing from Olympic camp in Tokyo
A weightlifter from Uganda who went missing from an Olympic training camp on Friday, July 16, left a note stating that he wanted to stay in Japan, media reports said, adding to confusion ahead of the Games which starts next week.
On July 16, Julius Ssekitoleko was reported missing after he failed to turn up for a Covid-19 test. Officials have said that police were executing an 'all-out effort' to find the 20-year-old, who was taking part in the Ugandan training camp near Osaka. Further media reports suggest that Ssekitoleko left behind a note saying that he wanted to stay and work in Japan as life in Uganda was difficult. Ssekitoleko didn't qualify to take part in the Tokyo Games and was due to return to Uganda next Tuesday, July 20. A nearby train station filmed Ssekitoleko buying a bullet train ticket to Nagoya in central Japan, the reports said. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics, delayed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, is now happening under tight quarantine rules, limiting participants' movements to prevent the spread of infections.
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The news comes as another setback for the Ugandan team after two members of their Olympic committee tested positive for Covid-19 after landing in Japan last month. It is not clear if Ssekitoleko was one of them.
Ugandan Weightlifting Federation president Salim Musoke said that the last time he spoke to the athlete was on Tuesday, July 13. He told The New York Times: "When I got the message, I wondered, what happened if they were well guarded. What happened to the security they have been talking about? Athletes disappearing is not good for the country. I am praying that they should get this boy. The government of Japan should get this boy, and then we expel him from the sport."
A search for the missing athlete is currently underway by police and local officials. "We understand that Izumisano City has been searching for the person who has gone missing," a spokesman for the Tokyo organizing committee told the Times in a statement. "We hope the person will be found very soon."
A statement from the Ugandan Olympic Committee read: "It was anticipated that he would qualify for the games. However, he did not make the quota as informed by the International Weightlifting Federation on 5 July 2021. He, together with his coach, was due to return to Uganda on 20 July 2021. We, during our regular team briefings both in Uganda and in Japan, emphasized inter alia the need to respect the immigration regulations of Japan and not opt to leave the camp without authorization. Our team in Izumisano is cooperating with the Osaka authorities to try and locate Ssekitoleko. We shall keep you posted on any further developments in this regard."