Ugandan Olympic Weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko Found After Being Reported Missing

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJuly 20, 2021

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 05:  Julius Ssekitoleko of Uganda competes during the Weightlifting Men's 56kg Final on day one of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre on April 5, 2018 on the Gold Coast, Australia.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Julius Ssekitoleko, a Ugandan weightlifter who was reported missing in Japan ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, was located in Yokkaichi City.

Hisako Ueno and Motoko Rich of the New York Times reported Tuesday that Ssekitoleko, who'd left a note in his hotel room saying he wanted to seek employment in Japan, was located around 100 miles from his team's training camp in Osaka.

Uganda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying arrangements were being made for the weightlifter to return home as early as Wednesday:

Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Uganda 🇺🇬 @UgandaMFA

📌STATEMENT BY THE UGANDA EMBASSY IN TOKYO- JAPAN INFORMING OF THE CASE OF MISSING UGANDAN ATHLETE 📌<a href="https://twitter.com/JanetMuseveni?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JanetMuseveni</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/JapanEmb_Uganda?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JapanEmb_Uganda</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/GovUganda?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GovUganda</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/GenJejeOdongo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GenJejeOdongo</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/okelloryem?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@okelloryem</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/ugandatokyo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ugandatokyo</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/HamsonObua?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HamsonObua</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/drukare?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@drukare</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/WilliamFBlick?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WilliamFBlick</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/UgandaOlympics?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@UgandaOlympics</a> <a href="https://t.co/u3RQ0SUEdk">pic.twitter.com/u3RQ0SUEdk</a>

Ssekitoleko was originally slated to fly home Tuesday after failing to qualify for the Olympic weightlifting field, but he was declared missing after he failed to submit a COVID-19 test Friday, per CNN's Rob Picheta and Junko Ogura.

A search of his hotel room led to the discovery of the note, which declared his intention to remain in Japan and directed Ugandan officials to ship his personal items back to his wife, according to CNN.

Osaka Prefectural Police official Naoki Fukuyama told the New York Times they were eventually able to find surveillance footage that showed Ssekitoleko traveling from Osaka to Nagoya by train before making a stop in Gifu and then ending up in Yokkaichi.

"He may be a hero in his country, but he felt it was difficult to return to the country as he learned he can't compete in the Games," Fukuyama said. "He must have hoped to win and bring the gold medal back to his country. I feel sorry for him. I felt relieved he was found and want to hand him over as soon as possible as many citizens are worrying."

Fukuyama added Ssekitoleko is "not a criminal" since he traveled on a legal visa, despite violating Olympic rules.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Uganda will review the "alleged absconding from the duty" by the 20-year-old weightlifter and the case will be "handled appropriately" when he returns to the country.

Ssekitoleko most notably competed in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, finishing 10th in the finals of the men's 56-kilogram competition.