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17 Jul, 2021 15:47

‘He’s not from a rich family’: Ugandan weightlifter skips Covid test, flees Olympic camp with note saying he ‘wants work in Japan’

‘He’s not from a rich family’: Ugandan weightlifter skips Covid test, flees Olympic camp with note saying he ‘wants work in Japan’

Local officials have confirmed that a Ugandan weightlifter has disappeared from his country's Japanese Olympic training camp, reportedly leaving behind a note stating he has gone looking for work – possibly in the city of Nagoya.

Authorities went on the lookout for Julius Ssekitoleko, aged 20, after he failed to turn up for a routine coronavirus test and could not be found in his hotel room, said officials in the city of Izumisano.

Their Ugandan counterparts explained that Ssekitoleko had recently discovered he would not be able to take part in the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games due to a quota system, which may have inspired his decision.

Late on Friday, Izumisano chiefs said a note was found in his hotel room, where he detailed that he wished to seek employment in the East Asian country and requested that his belongings were sent to his relatives back in Uganda.

Surveillance camera footage appears to show the athlete – who was last seen shortly after midnight by a fellow professional – at the local train station, where he is believed to have purchased a ticket to Nagoya. 

Officials are still not clear on whether he actually headed straight to the bustling metropolis of more than 10 million people.

The President of the Ugandan Weightlifting Federation, Salim Musoke Ssenkungu, told AFP how Ssekitoleko was training "very hard" to participate in his first Olympic weightlifting competition, yet had been told this week he wouldn't be allowed to compete and therefore had to return home.

"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," suggested Ssenkungu.

"He's not from a rich family so it took a lot of interest and energy from him to be successful," Ssenkungu added of the rookie, who had recently scooped a bronze medal at the African Weightlifting Championships.

Donald Rukare, who is president of the Uganda Olympic Committee, claimed that officials were informed late about Ssenkungu's disappearance.

"We are also trying to find out [what happened]. We are in contact with the team in Osaka," he said.

Since arriving in Japan last month, Uganda's preparations in the Osaka region have been blighted by setbacks.

A coach tested positive upon arrival in Izumisano, and other members of the delegation were subsequently asked to self-isolate, as a second member tested positive shortly after.

Athletes are being tested regularly for the tournament, which runs from July 22 to August 8, and are barred from moving around freely and being able to interact with locals while being confined to their hotels and training sites.

Following claims of some violations of these rules by Olympics participants, the Japanese government said on Friday that it had asked organizers to investigate and punish those found to be flouting them.

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