Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko was reported missing in Japan on Friday, July 16, 2021, ahead of the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. According to the New York Times (NYT), the 20-year-old is one of nine Ugandan weightlifters who arrived in the Osaka Prefecture of Izumisano in western Japan in June to train for the Games.
Ssekitoleko, who is in the 67-kilogram class, was ultimately not selected to compete at the Games and was scheduled to travel back to Uganda on Tuesday, July 20, 2021 — just three days before the Games’ opening ceremony. His absence was noticed at approximately noon on July 16 after he was not in his room following his failure to submit a sample for daily COVID-19 testing.
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[Related: The Full 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games Weightlifting Roster]
The Japanese government has placed Tokyo in its fourth state of emergency lockdown in order to combat the surging COVID-19 cases across the country. According to Worldometers, as of July 16, 2021, there have been 831,193 cases of COVID-19 in Japan have resulted in 15,014 deaths.
Per the NYT, “one coach and one athlete with the Ugandan Olympic delegation tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Japan” in June. However, it was not disclosed if Ssekitoleko was one of those positive cases. He was, however, seen by his teammates at their hotel on the morning of the 16th, prior to disappearing. Olympic organizers have tried to keep all participants in a “bubble” to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Katsunobu Kato, the Chief Cabinet Secretary to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, stated that an “all-out effort” was being conducted by “police and city officials” to find Ssekitoleko.
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Editor’s Note: the following updates were added on July 19, 2021.
The search for Ssekitoleko bore fruit to his whereabouts. According to CNN, when Ssekitoleko went missing, he actually bought a train ticket to Nagoya. A note from Ssekitoleko was found wherein he stated, “his life in the African country was too difficult and he wanted to work in Japan.” The note further went on to reveal that Ssekitoleko did not want to return to Uganda and requested “the members of his delegation to send his belongings back to his wife.”
Editor’s Note: the following updates were added on July 26, 2021.
After traveling to Nagoya, Ssekitoleko was found and has since traveled back home to Uganda. He was seen at the arrivals terminal of the Entebbe International Airport. Images were shared on NTV Uganda’s Twitter page:
Weightlifter, Julius Ssekitoleko, who went missing in Japan has arrived at Entebbe International Airport. Japan sent Ssekitoleko home days after he was found in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture. #NTVNews
📸: Media Centre pic.twitter.com/lQZsTDX6aC
— NTV UGANDA (@ntvuganda) July 23, 2021
For reference, as of July 26, 2021, the COVID-19 cases in Japan rose to 870,445 — an increase of 39,252 in 10 days — and related deaths rose to 15,129.
[Related: 2020 Olympic Games Weightlifting Results — Men’s 67-Kilograms]
2020 Tokyo Olympic Games
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on July 23 through August 8, 2021. Fourteen weightlifting categories (seven men’s and seven women’s) are slated to compete. As part of the precautions against COVID-19, international spectators are not allowed to travel to Japan to watch the Games’ events. Additionally, podium finishers will be presented medals on trays in contactless medal ceremonies — there are 339 medal ceremonies scheduled.
Feature image: @juliusssekitoleko on Instagram