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September 21, 2021

Ugandan Weightlifter Missing in Japan Amid Olympic Lockdown

TOKYO — A Ugandan weightlifter who traveled to Japan in the hopes of competing in the Tokyo Olympics was missing from his hotel near an athletic training camp, officials said Friday.

Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, one of nine Ugandans who had been staying in Izumisano — a city in Osaka prefecture in western Japan — since mid-June was discovered to be missing around noon Friday when he failed to show up for a coronavirus test.

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

Organizers recently announced that all spectators would be barred from venues in Tokyo, which declared a state of emergency amid a rise in coronavirus cases.

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

The police are conducting a search, said Katsunobu Kato, the chief Cabinet secretary to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Kato said the police and city officials were making an “all-out effort” to find Ssekitoleko.

According to Salim Musoke, the president of the Uganda Weightlifting Federation, Ssekitoleko did not qualify to compete in the Olympics and was scheduled to fly back to Uganda on July 20 before the official opening of the Games.

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

“When I got the message, I wondered, what happened if they were well guarded,” Musoke said. “What happened to the security they have been talking about?”

He was disappointed by the news.

“Athletes disappearing is not good for the country,” Musoke said of Japan, which has faced criticism for insisting that the Games would go ahead.

“I am praying that they should get this boy,” Musoke said. “The government of Japan should get this boy, and then we expel him from the sport.”

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

“All we want is that he’s found as soon as possible,” Fukuoka said. “He might be having a tough time.”

A spokesman for the Tokyo organizing committee said it was aware of the case.

“We understand that Izumisano City has been searching for the person who has gone missing,” the committee said in a statement. “We hope the person will be found very soon.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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