THE PATAFA AND EJ OBIENA CONTROVERSY
The Philippines' top pole vaulter, Asia´s record holder, and the current top six in the world, Ernest John “Ej” Uy Obiena is out from the World Indoor Championships after the non-endorsement from the Philippines Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA).
Following the PATAFA accusing Obiena of embezzlement, the pole vaulter has been defending his reputation for the past few months. But even with Obiena’s great triumphs for the country, he still ends himself confronting this kind of struggle. However, how did this all start in the first place?
Let’s tackle how things had gone for the pole vaulter.
Alleged failure to pay Ukrainian coach
Several media sources received leaked letters from PATAFA demanding that Ej Obiena to pay the 85,000 euros or 4.8 million pesos that were allocated for his current coach, Vitaly Petrov. “Based on the written statements of Mr. Sergey Bubka and Mr. Vitaly Petrov, including the documents you have submitted to the Patafa, it appears that you falsified the liquidations submitted to the Patafa and failed to pay the coaching fees of Mr. Vitaly Petrov in the total amount of Eighty-Five Thousand Euros (€85,000),” the first letter stated.
The Tokyo olympian confirmed that he received a signed letter in November 2021 ordering him to return the funds, but he vehemently refuted the charges leveled against him. “Rumors are 100% false and represent nothing more than character assassination,” Obiena wrote.
Even Petrov himself issued a statement in which he said “My coaching fee for the period in question is a total of 85,000€. I have been fully paid this sum by EJ both directly and indirectly. I confirm this…This situation is destroying this young man and ruining his chances to success now and in the future.”
PATAFA then changed its narrative from embezzlement to late payments
After PATAFA accused Obiena of forging documents linked to liquidation proceedings — regarding the financial aid to meet his coach’s salary — Obiena strongly objected to the “shifting” charges thrown against him. According to the pole vaulter, PATAFA later wants to know if Obiena paid his coach on time for the months of May 2018 and June 2018.
Because of that Obiena admitted to paying Petrov late, with him saying that “I am not an accountant. This is not a crime.” As a result, Obiena and PATAFA have been exchanging public statements back and forth.
Obiena excluded from Indoor World Championship
In response to the charges thrown against Obiena, the 26-year-old spoke up for himself. He has threatened to take early retirement and is preparing a defamation and slander lawsuit against PATAFA as a result of their remarks about him. “I will praise legal challenges and I want this to be put into a court of law where all evidence must be exposed,” he said.
“I am willing to make peace on this case but I must have my good name cleared. I do not hold out much hope. It is clear I am not wanted by my federation in any shape or form. I am attacked without any due process and now narrative and accusations have somehow changed,” he said.
Unfortunately, the pole vaulter athlete wasn’t able to compete in the World Indoor Championships due to a lack of endorsement from PATAFA. When asked about the reason, PATAFA said it “did not refuse to endorse EJ Obiena in international competitions,” but only postponed action while there’s an ongoing mediation process.
The senate warns PATAFA for failing to resolve the feud
PATAFA has dropped Obiena from the national pool and the senate did not take this lightly. Due to the unresolved issue between the two parties — the senate committee has recently warned the PATAFA board members that they could be penalized for contempt.
Four senators — including Sen. Pia Cayetano, Sen. President Vicente Sotto III, Sen. Francis Tolentino, and Sen. Panfilo Lacson — filed a motion to hold the PATAFA board in contempt for failing to commence mediation processes with Obiena as promised but rather pursuing an arbitration case. As a result of his falling out with Patafa, Obiena missed out on several international competitions.
The Senate Committee noted that the athlete should focus solely on training and not on the situation at hand. As of yet, no word from a PATAFA representative is released.
The Tokyo Olympian has already won two gold medals in Poland in the 2022 pole vault season. If only Obiena had been endorsed, he could have been the first full-blooded Filipino to compete in the World Indoors Championship. The Philippine sports system failed again another Filipino which has a future in the international sports arena. It is not the first time sports politics have got in the way of the success of our athletes. Hidilyn Diaz, despite her recent success in the Tokyo Olympics, has also revealed that she was unable to acquire financial support from her own nation.
Filipino athletes have proven time and time again that we have the talent to put our flag on the international stage but sadly politics has once again hindered such growth. Dismaying as it may sound, all that is left for us to do is to support our athletes and pray that this controversy will be the last.