OSAKA- A Ugandan athlete who took part in pre-Olympic training camp in western Japan has gone missing, leaving a note to the effect of, “I want to work in Japan,” local officials said Friday, with police now conducting a search in a case that may raise further questions about the safety of the games to be held amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Julius Ssekitoleko, a 20-year-old weightlifter staying in Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, purchased at a local station a shinkansen (bullet train) ticket to Nagoya, about 200 kilometers away, the city said, nearly a day since the athlete was last seen.
Ssekitoleko, who missed a spot for the Olympics after arriving in Japan last month, said in the note left at his hotel that he does not want to return to Uganda because life there is difficult and asked members of his delegation to give his belongings to his wife in his home country, according to the city.
He was not at his hotel when an official attempted to receive his sample for coronavirus testing at around noon Friday, the city said, adding he was last seen at around 12:30 a.m. by a teammate.
All delegation members must submit their samples for COVID-19 testing in the morning.
The development just a week before the opening of the Olympics may fuel concerns over the anti-virus measures in place by the games’ organizers, which have said athletes will only be allowed to go to limited locations and will not come into contact with locals.
The organizers have repeatedly said the Tokyo Games can be held safely, but public skepticism remains high especially due to a surge in COVID-19 infections in the Japanese capital.
The nine-member Ugandan delegation arrived at Narita airport near Tokyo on June 19 as one of the first teams to come to Japan for the games, but two members have tested positive for the coronavirus.
In a statement sent to Kyodo News, Beatrice Ayikoru, the chef de mission of the Ugandan delegation, admitted that Ssekitoleko has gone missing and said that he was due to head home with his coach next Tuesday.
“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,” the chief of the team said, adding it is cooperating with local authorities in trying to locate him.
The athlete answered his phone when an official in Uganda called him at around 6 p.m., but he said he was not in a situation to talk and hung up, according to the city.
The ticket to Nagoya was purchased around 6:30 a.m., it said. The central city is the prefectural capital of Aichi, where about 150 Ugandan people — the second-largest in Japan — were living as of late last year, according to government data released Friday.
Following the two COVID-19 cases on the team, Ugandan athletes only started training in the western Japan city last week after they had refrained from doing so.
The first Ugandan member in his 50s had tested positive for the virus upon arrival at the airport. While the remaining eight members traveled to Izumisano, a second person in their 20s was found to be infected, raising concern over Japan’s border control measures.
Izumisano has not revealed whether Ssekitoleko was the member who had tested positive for the virus, citing privacy reasons.