A Ugandan weightlifter who went missing from his Tokyo 2020 Olympics national team’s hotel last week to seek work in Japan has been found, according to local police on Tuesday.
Julius Ssekitoleko had been staying in the city of Izumisano in Osaka Prefecture and was missing since Friday.
He had reportedly left a note in his hotel room saying he wished to seek employment in the East Asian country as life in his own homeland was difficult.
Leaving his belongings, he requested that they be sent to his wife in Uganda.
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Ssekitoleko’s decision came after learning he had missed out on a spot in the weightlifting section of the Games, which are due to finally get underway on Friday.
Revealing that his charge, who recently won bronze at the African Weightlifting Championships, had been training “very hard” for his maiden Olympics, President of the Ugandan Weightlifting Federation Salim Musoke Ssenkungu explained the possible motivations for not wanting to return to Africa to AFP.
“If someone is there in Japan and is assuming he is going to compete but then gets bad news, of course he is going to be upset,” said Ssenkungu.
“He’s not from a rich family so it took a lot of interest and energy from him to be successful.”
CCTV footage showed the young man at a local train station, where he purchased a bullet train ticket to the bustling metropolis of Nagoya on Friday morning with only a mobile phone in tow as Ugandan team officials, who have already been in Japan a month, had his passport.
On Monday, police sources revealed how a man resembling Ssekitoleko had been captured on an unspecified day walking around the JR Nagoya Station – which is one of the world’s largest, some 200km from his team’s base – by cameras as the authorities attempted to track him down.
And on the following day, in Yokkaichi, which is around 40km south of Nagoya, Ssekitoleko was finally found, Kyodo News reported.
Struggling to complete his mission of finding a job in the Aichi Prefecture where 150 Ugandans reside according to local government data, he is now likely to be deported.
“He was found in a house belonging to people who have a connection to the man. He did not offer resistance. He was talking frankly. We are still questioning him about his motive,” a police official was quoted as saying.
In times of Covid, Ssekitoleko broke the rules by leaving his accommodation and not avoiding contact with a Japanese public widely opposed to the holding of the Games.
Furthermore, his escapade has raised questions in relation to safety at the Olympics.
On his last Instagram post, compatriots wished him good luck before being found, whilst others had a chilling warning.
“I watched the news today,” said one user in the replies.
“The Ugandan government wants to make an example out of you, prison is waiting for you here.”