Julius Ssekitoleko, a 20-year-old Ugandan athlete who went missing in Tokyo before the start of the Olympics, left a note before disappearing expressing concerns about going back to his country. According to CNN, the weightlifter said in his note that Uganda was too difficult and he wishes to work in Japan. He also made a request in his note for the members of his delegation to send his belongings back to his wife.
Ssekitoleko, who was scheduled to fly back to Uganda on July 20, after failing to qualify for the Games, was last seen at a local station near his delegation’s hotel in the city of Izumisano on Friday. City officials said the Olympic hopeful bought a bullet train ticket to Nagoya, about two hours away from where the Ugandan team was staying.
Officials first noticed Ssekitoleko’s absence when they went to his hotel around noon on Friday to receive a COVID-19 test sample, Kyodo News reported. Earlier that morning, the athlete answered a phone call from an official in Uganda and said he was not in a situation to talk. About half an hour after hanging up the call with the official, the weightlifter bought a train ticket to Nagoya. According to government data, about 150 Ugandan people were living in the area of Nagoya as of late last year.
Three years ago, Ssekitoleko competed in the men’s 56kg weightlifting final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia and finished 10th. Two Ugandan athletes, along with others from Rwanda and Cameroon, disappeared during those games. A pair of rugby players from Uganda also went missing during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, BBC reported.
The 2021 Ugandan Olympic delegation, which includes nine members, arrived in Japan on July 7 and completed a mandatory quarantine. One member of the delegation, a 50-year-old person, tested positive for the Delta variant upon arriving at the airport. Another member tested positive after the team traveled to Izumisano.
Beatrice Ayikoru, the chef de mission of the Ugandan delegation, said the team is cooperating with local authorities to locate Ssekitoleko.
“We, during our regular team briefings both in Uganda and in Japan, emphasized inter alia the need to respect the immigration regulations of Japan and not opt to leave the camp without authorization,” Ayikoru told Kyodo News.
According to Human Rights Watch, Uganda recently held elections and declared President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, as the winner. The election was followed by violence, with security forces arresting journalists and killing protestors. Human Rights Watch said many Ugandans are still facing torture and violations of basic rights.