Local police are working with the Ugandan embassy on Julius Ssekitoleko's "safe and secure return" home, after the Olympic hopeful weightlifter went missing last week in Japan

By Glenn Garner
July 20, 2021 03:37 PM
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Julius Ssekitoleko
Julius Ssekitoleko
| Credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

A Ugandan weightlifter who went missing on Friday, after he did not qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, has been found in a town about 100 miles away from his training camp.

Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, was scheduled to fly home to Uganda last Tuesday, but he went missing from his hotel room in the Osaka prefecture of Japan on Friday, when he was scheduled for a daily COVID test. He left a note at the time, saying he wished to stay in Japan and work. Police had since been searching for him.

He was found on Tuesday at the home of an acquaintance in Yokkaichi City, in the Mie prefecture, carrying identification, according to The New York Times. Naoki Fukuyama, an official at the Osaka prefectural police department, said they tracked him via surveillance footage, which showed him taking a bullet train from Osaka to Nagoya, from where he traveled with another man to Gifu in central Japan. That man directed them to Yokkaichi, where they found Ssekitoleko.

"He is not a criminal," Fukuyama noted. "Even though he has violated the Olympic rules, he has no problem doing anything as his visa is valid."

Police are coordinating with the Ugandan embassy to determine where to deliver Ssekitoleko, as the rest of his team moved into Olympic Village on Monday. The embassy released a statement on Twitter, announcing that they're working on his "safe and secure return" to Uganda as early as Wednesday.

"Any issues to do with alleged absconding from the duty he had been flown to perform in Japan and related disappearance from the training camp, will be handled appropriately upon his return to Uganda," the statement read.

Okello Oryem, a junior minister in Uganda's Foreign Affairs Ministry, referred to Ssekitoleko as a "traitor" while addressing reporters with the Japanese ambassador in the Ugandan capital city of Kampala. "This behavior and act is treacherous," Oryem said.

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Ssekitoleko travelled to Japan in mid-June, with hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, which did not happen. He reportedly handed over his passport upon his arrival. "When I got the message, I wondered, what happened if they were well guarded," Salim Musoke, the president of the Uganda Weightlifting Federation, previously said.

"He may be a hero in his country, but he felt it was difficult to return to the country as he learned he can't compete in the Games," Fukuyama said. "He must have hoped to win and bring the gold medal back to his country. I feel sorry for him. I felt relieved he was found and want to hand him over as soon as possible as many citizens are worrying."

After Tokyo declared a state of emergency earlier this month over rising COVID rates, Olympic organizers have continued to impose strict rules for foreign athletes, whose travel is supposed to be limited to scheduled events, hotels and training venues.

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics beginning July 23rd and the Tokyo Paralympics beginning August 24th on NBC.