Nagoya – A man believed to be a Ugandan athlete who went missing last week from his pre-Olympic training camp in western Japan has been found in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, police sources said Tuesday.
Julius Ssekitoleko, a weightlifter who was staying in Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, went missing Friday after leaving a note at his hotel saying he wanted to work in Japan as life in his home country was difficult. The city and his team had been trying to locate him with help from police.
Ssekitoleko, who has an ID card with his photo on it, has said he is the weightlifter, the Osaka Prefectural Police said, adding they are trying to verify his identity and are in communication with the team and the country’s embassy in Tokyo.
The 20-year-old athlete, who has been taken into protective custody, is responding to questioning with occasional tears, according to the police.
The athlete and his coach were due to return to Uganda this week after the weightlifter missed out on a spot for the Tokyo Olympics, due to begin Friday amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to Izumisano and team officials.
The weightlifter purchased a shinkansen to Nagoya on Friday morning, the city officials said. He had a mobile phone but his passport was kept by the Ugandan team, which arrived in Japan on June 19.
The Osaka police said Ssekitoleko arrived at JR Nagoya Station, about 200 kilometers from Izumisano, on Friday and joined a Ugandan man believed to be someone he knew in advance in the city and then moved to the neighboring prefecture of Gifu.
Nagoya is the prefectural capital of Aichi, where about 150 Ugandan people — the second-largest Ugandan community in Japan — were living as of late last year, according to government data.
Taking a tip from the man, Ssekitoleko was visiting Yokkaichi about 40 kilometers to the south of Nagoya, and found by a police officer, the police said, adding he showed no signs of resistance.
The note he left behind also asked members of his delegation to give his belongings to his wife in Uganda, according to the Izumisano officials.
Under the anti-COVID-19 measures put in place by Olympic organizers, athletes are only allowed to go to a limited number of locations, such as their venues and accommodation, and must avoid contact with the public.
The weightlifter’s disappearance from his training camp has raised further questions about the safety of the Olympics, at a time when Tokyo and other parts of the country continue to reel from surging infections.
Since arriving in Japan, two members of the Ugandan delegation have tested positive for the virus. The first, a man in his 50s, was found to be infected upon arrival at Narita Airport near Tokyo.
The remaining eight members traveled to Izumisano, but a second person in their 20s was found to be infected, fueling concerns over Japan’s border control measures.
After being isolated, the members were able to start training from July 7 and they entered the athletes village in Tokyo on Tuesday.
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