Uganda Arrests Weightlifter After Sneaking into, Disappearing at Tokyo Olympics

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: Flag bearers Kirabo Namutebi and Shadiri Bwogi of Team Uganda during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Ugandan police arrested a Ugandan weightlifter last week for attempting to defect to Japan on July 16 while visiting the country along with the Ugandan Olympic team, Voice of America (VOA) reported Monday.

Julius Sekitoleko, 20, flew to Japan in June along with the Ugandan Olympic team for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games. The weightlifter “did not qualify for the Ugandan Olympic team, and no one can explain why he was flown to Tokyo,” VOA reported on July 26.

Uganda’s government has launched an official investigation “to determine why Sekitoleko was flown to Japan with his coach,” Charles Twiine, a spokesman for Uganda’s Criminal Investigations Department, told reporters Monday.

“What is visibly clear here, is that there’s a probable fraud of airlifting a person with full knowledge that he had not qualified,” Twiine said. “To go and participate well knowing he is not going to participate. Now the fundamental question is, was he part of the fraud as a conspirator and it’s the reason why we are having him [investigated].”

“Ugandan authorities say they will likely grant bail to the 20-year-old weightlifter after he spent four days in detention but that he still may face charges,” according to VOA.

Japanese police launched a search mission for Sekitoleko on July 16 after he left the Ugandan Olympic team’s quarters in Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture. Izumisano government officials said Sekitoleko left a note behind at his hotel stating he “wanted to work in Japan as life in his home country was difficult,” Kyodo News reported on July 21.

“The weightlifter purchased a shinkansen [high-speed] bullet train ticket to Nagoya on Friday morning [July 16],” Izumisano government officials told Japanese media. “He had a mobile phone, but his passport was kept by the Ugandan [Olympic] team, which arrived in Japan on June 19.”

“The Osaka prefectural police said Tuesday [July 20] that Sekitoleko arrived at JR Nagoya Station, about 200 kilometers from Izumisano, on the day of his disappearance and joined a Ugandan man he is believed to have known beforehand, traveling on to the neighboring prefecture of Gifu,” Kyodo News relayed.

“Sekitoleko was visiting Yokkaichi about 40 kilometers to the south of Nagoya when he was found by a police officer on Tuesday and taken into protective custody,” according to the news site.

Tokyo Olympics organizers and Japanese health officials have banned athletes from leaving their designated sporting venues and accommodation sites during their stay in Japan under strict Chinese coronavirus protocol. The rules also prohibit Olympic athletes from making unnecessary contact with the Japanese public as part of an overall effort to mitigate virus transmission.

The president of the Olympic organizing body, Seiko Hashimoto, told reporters on June 25 she believed anti-virus measures at the Tokyo Games should be “tightened” after “two of the nine-member Ugandan Olympic delegation,” including the team’s coach, tested positive for the Chinese coronavirus upon arrival in Japan on June 19.

“Even after one member tested positive at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture [east of Tokyo], the rest of the team traveled on to Osaka Prefecture aboard a chartered bus,” the Japan Times noted on June 27.

“[L]ocal health authorities in Osaka later determined that the entire team, as well as eight other people, including host-city officials and bus drivers, had been in close contact with the two infected individuals,” the newspaper recalled.

“The development … sparked criticism that the whole of the Ugandan delegation should have been isolated before it traveled by bus,” according to the Japan Times.

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