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Ugandan weightlifter missing as Tokyo marks 1 week to Olympics

Ugandan weightlifter missing as Tokyo marks 1 week to Olympics

People walk by the Olympic rings installed by the Nippon Bashi bridge in Tokyo on Jul 15, 2021. (Photo: AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

TOKYO: A Ugandan weightlifter has gone missing during an Olympic training camp in Japan after learning he would not be able to compete, Japanese and Ugandan officials said Friday.

Authorities were searching for Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, who failed to show up for a coronavirus test and was not in his hotel room, host city Izumisano said in a statement.

Ugandan sports officials said the athlete had recently found out he would not be able to compete at the Games because of a quota system.

"One member of the Ugandan delegation, which the city received as a host town, has gone missing and cannot be reached," the city near Osaka said in a statement.

"The city is making all efforts to search for the individual. We have reported the matter to police."

The statement said Ssekitoleko was last seen shortly after midnight inside the hotel by a fellow athlete.

READ: COVID-19 outbreaks at Olympic hotels sow frustration, stoke infection fears

He failed to conduct a required PCR test by shortly after noon and the alarm was raised when he was not found in his hotel room.

Salim Musoke Ssenkungu, president of the Ugandan Weightlifting Federation, told AFP that Ssekitoleko had been training "very hard" for his first Olympic weightlifting competition but was told this week that he would not be allowed to compete and 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," Ssenkungu said.

The young athlete had recently won a bronze in the Africa Weightlifting Championships and was considered experienced despite his youth, he added.

"He's not from a rich family so it took a lot of interest and energy from him to be successful," Ssenkungu said.

Donald Rukare, president of the Uganda Olympic Committee, said officials had only just been informed about the disappearance.

"We are also trying to find out (what happened). We are in contact with the team in Osaka," he told AFP.

Uganda's delegation arrived in Japan last month, headed for a pre-Games training camp in Izumisano, in Osaka region.

READ: Bach says COVID-19 rules 'working' ahead of Tokyo Games

But a coach tested positive on arrival, and other delegation members were subsequently asked to self-isolate, with a second member later testing positive.

Virus cases are rising in Tokyo, which is under a state of emergency, and there is heavy scrutiny in Japan of infection risks linked to the Games.

"FEELS LIKE WE'RE IN PRISON"

Dozens of teams are already in Japan - some at training camps dotted around the country, and others in the Olympic Village, where national flags have been hung on the buildings housing delegations.

However, Australian basketball star Liz Cambage announced her withdrawal over the mental health risks of staying in "terrifying" bubble conditions.

"No family. No friends. No fans. No support system outside of my team. It's honestly terrifying for me," the four-time WNBA All-Star said in a statement.

British weightlifter Sarah Davies said living in the bubble felt like "prison".

"We have what we call the prison yard," she said in a video posted on her Instagram account as she walked on a stretch of pavement.

"So we can literally walk up and down this stretch between the hours of 7 am and 10 am, and that is the only time we're allowed outside," she said.

"Genuinely, feels like we're in prison. But, hey, it is what it is ... Welcome to Olympic Games, COVID edition."

Olympic officials are also in Japan, including Bach who visited Hiroshima on Friday to mark the start of an "Olympic truce" that urges a worldwide halt to hostilities during the Games.

READ: Global interest in Tokyo Games muted: Poll

READ: Host city Tokyo enters fresh COVID-19 emergency as Games near

The visit sparked some controversy, with more than 70,000 people signing a petition opposing his trip and accusing Bach of using Hiroshima and Nagasaki "to promote the Olympics ... even though it is being forced through despite opposition".

Polls have shown most Japanese want to see the Games postponed or cancelled, though some recent polls showed opposition softening.

The German former fencer laid a wreath at a memorial to victims of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, and appeared shaken after visiting a museum documenting the attack and its aftermath.

Describing himself as "humbled" by the trip, Bach said the Games would "be a beacon of hope for a better and more peaceful future".

Bach has been meeting local officials in recent days and Japanese media said Friday he had asked the prime minister to consider allowing spectators into Olympic venues if the virus situation improves.

Up to 5,000 spectators are currently allowed at non-Olympic sporting events in Tokyo, despite the emergency.

But officials argue the Games is different because it involves multiple events happening simultaneously, posing a greater risk of crowds gathering and infection spreading.

Source: AFP/ga

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