• Kyodo

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An athlete from Uganda who went missing last week from his pre-Olympic training camp in Osaka Prefecture has been found and headed back to his home country late Wednesday, officials said.

The mayor of Izumisano, which hosted the training camp, said at a press conference that Julius Ssekitoleko initially expressed hopes of staying in Japan but was later convinced to go back to Uganda during a meeting with the head of the Ugandan team.

Confirming a man found in the central prefecture Mie Prefecture on Tuesday by police was Ssekitoleko, the Ugandan Embassy in Tokyo has said, "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."

Izumisano Mayor Hiroyasu Chiyomatsu told the press that a city official also confirmed at a Tokyo police station that the man was the weightlifter and accompanied him and an official from the embassy to Narita Airport.

Ssekitoleko didn't answer any questions from reporters at the airport before going through a departure gate.

Ssekitoleko went missing Friday from the country's Olympic team in Izumisano 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.

The 20-year-old weightlifter and his coach were due to return to Uganda this week after he 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 ticket to Nagoya on Friday morning, according to city officials. He had a mobile phone but his passport was kept by the Ugandan team, which arrived in Japan on June 19.

The Osaka Prefectural Police said Tuesday that Ssekitoleko arrived at Nagoya Station, about 200 kilometers from Izumisano, on the day of his disappearance and joined a Ugandan man he is believed to have known beforehand, traveling on to Gifu Prefecture.

Ssekitoleko was visiting Yokkaichi in Mie about 40 kilometers to the south of Nagoya when he was found by a police officer on Tuesday and taken into protective custody.

He responded to questioning with occasional tears, according to the police.

Under the COVID-19 countermeasures 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.

His disappearance ahead of the opening of the Olympics raised further questions about the safety of the global sporting event, as Tokyo and other parts of the country struggle to contain another wave of infections.

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