EJ Obiena soars to No. 3 in world pole vault rankings as row with PATAFA simmers

POLE VAULTER EJ Obiena

MANILA — Embattled Filipino athlete EJ Obiena has emerged as one of the top three pole vaulters in the world after he broke Asian and Philippine records in 2021.
Obiena, who is being questioned by the Philippine Athletics and Track and Field Association (PATAFA) president Philip Juico but is backed by the Philippine Olympic Committee led by Rep. Abraham Tolentino, now shares the spot with United States’ Sam Kendricks and Russia’s Timur Morgunov in the latest rankings released by World Athletics.
The 26-year-old polevault sensation achieved his new milestone after he cleared 5.93 meters in last year’s Golden Roof Challenge in Austria, beating the longstanding record of 5.92 meters held by Kazakhstan’s Igor Potapovich since February 1998.

Obiena also smashed his 5.91-meter personal and national record following his silver medal finish at the 2021 Paris Diamond League, it was reported.

Armand “Mondo” Duplantis of Sweden and Christopher Nilsen of US clinched No. 1 and No. 2 in the rankings with season bests of 6.10 meters and 5.97 meters, respectively.
Last month, the Philippine Olympic Committee said it no longer recognizes Philip Juico as PATAFA president  amid his controversial rift with Obiena.
It said it found that Juico made “malicious public accusations” against the Olympian, including falsifying liquidation reports on the salary of his Ukranian coach Vitaly Petrov, which the latter denied.
The committee also assured support for Obiena, who made history as the first-ever Filipino athlete to qualify for the Tokyo Games, in his future global competitions.
The dispute between  Obiena and the PATAFA has worsened as the athletics body decided to drop the Olympian from the national team.
The PATAFA Board of Trustees and officials headed by Philip Juico made the decision as they unveiled during a press conference the results of its investigation into Obiena’s alleged non-payment of coaching fees to his coach, Ukrainian Vitaly Petrov, and his falsification of liquidation documents.
Obiena denied the accusations against him as early as November and called the PATAFA’s actions a “textbook example of how to destroy an athlete.”
Obiena said he and Coach Vitaly Petrov are ready to face the charges slapped by the PATAFA on them.
“On the recommendation of filing of estafa, I am ready to face all cases and charges filed against me in any court or forum. I am hopeful that I will have my fair day in court and that I can finally end this baseless witch hunt,” he said in a statement.

“I am ready for everything that Philip Juico and the PATAFA will throw at me as their intention now is finally clear: they want me out of the Philippine Team and they don’t want me to jump for the Philippines.”

Obiena said he has already informed his foreign coach of the PATAFA’s plans to file charges against him in the World Athletics Federation.

“He is unperturbed by this. He is a good man and has treated me like his own son. I am sorry that he is being dragged into this,” he added.

Obiena also lashed out at the PATAFA’s decision to declare his mentor, Jim Lafferty, as persona non grata.

“Jim is a sports patriot for the Philippines and has been helping Filipino athletes for more than 15 years,” he said. “He has spent millions of his own money to help our athletes without asking or receiving anything in return. He has done so much for the Philippines, the Filipino athlete, and even for the PATAFA. And instead of giving him a pat on the back, he is now being rewarded by declaring him a persona non-grata. This is so senseless.”

He also denied that he does not want a mediation process to happen between him and the PATAFA.
Obiena also thanked the POC for its assurance that he remains a part of the national team despite his beef with PATAFA.
In response to PATAFA’s action, the POC vowed to keep supporting  EJ Obiena amid the PATAFA action dropping him from the national training pool of the country’s athletics federation.

“I expected (that) EJ will be dropped from the national team by his NSA (national sports association) as a vengeful act,” POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said.

The POC had earlier declared PATAFA president Philip Ella Juico as “persona non grata,” with its Ethics Committee finding that Juico had “harassed” Obiena by making “malicious public accusations.”

“The action of Mr. Juico in removing EJ Obiena from the national pool is an expected result of his expose — a vengeful act that shuts down the chances of the Philippines from its Olympic dream,” said Tolentino.

“The POC has made an evaluation of this, and I am sorry that we cannot make our cards public. Suffice it to say that we are created for the Olympic dreams of our athletes, and we will support our athletes in achieving their dreams,” he added.

Tolentino stressed that the POC will continue to support Obiena, who holds both the national and Asian records for his event and was the lone Asian to make the pole vault final in the Tokyo Olympics in August 2021.

“We in the POC will make sure EJ will be in Hanoi and Hangzhou, and in all other major world competitions. We’ll fight for EJ,” said Tolentino.

  • In the press conference, the PATAFA produced a timeline of the situation, starting with a September 9 call among PATAFA president Juico, Petrov, and Sergey Bubka, the former Olympic pole vault champion who is now the president of Ukraine’s national Olympic committee. It was there that Petrov alleged that he has not been paid his coaching fees, prompting the PATAFA  to secure signed affidavits from both Petrov and Bubka.

In November, it was revealed that PATAFA ordered Obiena to return  85,000 euros, alleging that the pole vaulter did not pay the money to his coach. However, Obiena and Petrov both denied the allegations, with Petrov insisting that he has been fully paid by the pole vaulter.

According to the PATAFA findings, Petrov was paid an amount of 85,026.80 euros from September 20, 2020, to November 9, 2021. However, 66% of the amount was paid from the period of November 4-9, 2021.

“Obviously, the remittances/transfers… were resorted to in order to cover the irregularities committed by EJ Obiena and to make it appear that Mr. Petrov was paid his coaching fees, when in fact he was not,” the PATAFA said.

Based on their findings, the PATAFA committee concluded that Obiena had “misappropriated the amount of 61,026.80 euros… which were released to him by the PATAFA and the Philippine Sports Commission as payment for the coaching fee of Mr. Petrov.”

His mother, former PATAFA auditor Jeanette Obiena, was also found to have misappropriated the amount of P624,116.76.

Given their findings, the PATAFA committee recommended that Obiena be dropped from the national training pool, effective immediately.

The PATAFA said it also intends to file a criminal complaint of estafa against Obiena over the 6,000 euros, which were supposed to cover Petrov’s coaching fee from the period of May 2018 to August 2018.

The group said a complaint will be filed against Petrov before World Athletics for violating the Integrity Code of Conduct, adding that it also intends to immediately terminate Petrov as a coach, while Obiena’s adviser, American businessman James Lafferty, will be declared as a persona non grata.

The recommendations have been approved by the PATAFA’s Board of Trustees but have yet to be implemented, according to Juico.

“The recommendations have just been made public today. We will have to sit down to work out the mechanics, the procedures,” he said. “People will have to be notified, arrangements will have to be made. It is not an instant thing that we can do.”

The report of the PATAFA Investigative Committee will be sent to both the PSC and the Commission on Audit. It remains to be seen if those agencies will also file charges against Obiena.

Juico lamented the situation, noting that he has known Obiena since he was a teenager and was in fact the one to introduce the pole vaulter to Bubka in 2014, paving the way for him to work with Petrov in Formia, Italy.

“The report brought so much sadness and feelings of betrayal. But we have to face the challenge because we should account for all the funds, government and private, given we have a responsibility over showing of all moral, ethical considerations,” he said.

“So the board has accepted all the recommendations of the Administrative Committee that includes removing the 26-year-old young man, who knew the consequences of what he was doing, as he repeatedly produced those spurious documents. He now has to face the consequences,” he added.

Juico was recently declared persona non grata by the Philippine Olympic Committee in light of his feud with Obiena.

According to PATAFA chairman Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Obiena was asked repeatedly by the administrative committee to explain his side of the situation, but the pole vaulter opted not to do so.

“Obiena has been given three instances for him to appear,” Rodriguez said. “But he did not.”

On December 24, Obiena also declined the PSC’s offer to mediate between himself and PATAFA. The PSC withdrew its offer on December 27, saying: “The agency leaves the mediation table, respecting the decision of Mr. Obiena who chose to submit to procedures conducted by other institutions.”

The PSC has yet to respond to PATAFA’s recommendations.

Obiena, 26, was one of 19 Filipinos to compete in the Tokyo Olympics last year, and the lone Asian to reach the pole vault final where he placed 11th overall. In September 2021, he set a new Asian record in the discipline when he cleared 5.93-meters at the 2021 Golden Roof Challenge in Austria.

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