Ugandan weightlifter missing in Japan returns home


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A weightlifter who disappeared in Japan this month as he sought to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics has returned to Uganda and will be questioned by police, authorities said on Friday – a week after his disappearance made international headlines and received mixed reactions from around the world. the country.

Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, arrived at Entebbe International Airport shortly after 8 a.m. local time on Friday on a Qatar Airways flight. Photos and videos published by Ugandan media on social networks showed him his papers at the arrivals terminal.

After passing immigration, Mr. Ssekitoleko remained at the airport for more than two hours. He was then taken to the headquarters of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations in the capital Kampala, according to his mother, Juliet Nalwadda.

Charles Twiine, a spokesperson for the CID, later told the New York Times that Mr. Ssekitoleko was “resting” in their offices, after which he would be questioned by detectives to “establish whether there had been a crime committed. “.

Ugandan police spokesperson Fred Enanga said in a text message that authorities wanted to “establish the circumstances under which he disappeared from the Olympic Village camp while representing the country,” adding: “We then decide on the best way to handle his case. ” go forward.

Mr Ssekitoleko was first reported missing last Friday after he failed to show up for a coronavirus test while staying at a training camp in Izumisano, a town in the prefecture of Izumisano. ‘Osaka, in western Japan. Mr Ssekitoleko, who did not qualify for the Games and was due to return home to Uganda on Tuesday, left a note in which he said he did not want to return and hoped to find work in Japan. Five days later, police found him in Yokkaichi Town in Mie Prefecture.

Mr. Ssekitoleko has been interested in rugby and weightlifting for years and had won many local competitions, said Ms. Nalwadda, his mother. In 2018, he represented Uganda at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia and finished 10th in the men’s 56 kilo weightlifting competition.

But her dedication to the sport did not increase her income, she said. When he left for Japan, he was hoping not only to qualify, but also to win a medal and earn money, she said.

“I think telling him that he was unqualified and that he would return home, without providing him with any advice, is what prompted him to flee the camp,” she said.

Desire Nampeewo, wife of Mr Ssekitoleko, who is pregnant with their first child, said they were in dire straits and sometimes did not have enough to eat. After news of her disappearance, she was evicted from the house they were renting because they had not paid four months’ rent totaling approximately $ 170.

Mr Ssekitoleko hoped to become one of 25 athletes – including runners, boxers and a swimmer – who currently represent Uganda at the Tokyo Games. After arriving in Japan in June, a coach and athlete on the team tested positive for the coronavirus.

The weightlifter isn’t the first Ugandan – or African – athlete to disappear on a trip to a sports competition. In 2018, six Ugandan athletes went missing during the Commonwealth Games from Gold Coast, along with others from Rwanda and Kenya. Seven Cameroonian Olympians were reported missing during the London 2012 Olympics. Eritrean footballers have repeatedly disappeared or refused to return home while playing abroad.

The disappearance of Mr. Ssekitoleko has aroused the anger of some government officials who called him a “traitor” and his conduct “unacceptable”.

Okello Oryem, a young minister in Uganda’s foreign ministry, said authorities should investigate why the weightlifter did what he did. “He is a young man who could have been misled by individuals,” he said.

Maurice Kirya, a Ugandan singer and actor, said Mr. Ssekitoleko’s actions only testified to the desperation faced by Ugandan athletes. “We shouldn’t treat Julius Ssekitoleko like a criminal, he isn’t,” Kirya said. tweeted.

Musinguzi Blanshe reported from Kampala, Uganda, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya.


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