Ugandan Weight Lifter Missing in Japan Amid Olympic Lockdown

Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, an Olympic hopeful, failed to show up Friday for a required coronavirus test. Games organizers have ordered all participants to remain in a “bubble” to prevent the spread of the virus.

TOKYO — A Ugandan weight lifter 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 on 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 have 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 Mr. Ssekitoleko was one of them.

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

According to Salim Musoke, the president of the Uganda Weightlifting Federation, Mr. 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.

Mr. Musoke said on Friday that he last spoke with Mr. 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,” Mr. 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,” Mr. 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,” Mr. 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 Mr. Ssekitoleko’s hotel room on Friday, and he was not there.

“All we want is that he’s found as soon as possible,” Mr. 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.”

Motoko Rich is the Tokyo bureau chief, where she covers Japanese politics, society, gender and the arts, as well as news and features on the Korean peninsula. She has covered a broad range of beats at The Times, including real estate, the economy, books and education. 

Makiko Inoue covers news and features in Japan. She reported extensively from the Tohoku area hit by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Before joining The Times’s Tokyo bureau in 2002, she worked at the Tokyo bureau of The Los Angeles Times.

Hisako Ueno has been reporting on Japanese politics, business, gender, labor and culture for The Times since 2012. She previously worked for the Tokyo bureau of The Los Angeles Times from 1999 to 2009. 

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