Pole vaulting gem Ernest John (EJ) Obiena has had a falling out with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA), his own federation. The issue involved accusations of embezzlement which Obiena has denied, ready to defend his name to the point of putting his career on the line. But while investigations are ongoing, it seems like everyone is thinking of the same thing: Are we going to lose yet another Filipino star athlete?
EJ Obiena has had multiple passport offers
“Multiple. It’s not one, it’s multiple.”
James Lafferty, EJ Obiena’s long-time mentor, tells One News’ Gretchen Ho that multiple countries are offering passports to the world no. 5 pole vaulter.
— ONE News PH (@onenewsph) November 26, 2021
The latest development from the whole Obiena-PATAFA controversy has everyone either biting their nails in nervousness or wagging their heads in disappointment. James Lafferty, Obiena’s long-time mentor, spoke to Gretchen Ho about how other countries are viewing the mess the pole vault star is in. “It’s no secret that a number of countries are looking at this situation and laughing uncontrollably [about] how the Philippines is driving away a world-class athlete that they can offer a passport to,” said Lafferty. He continued to disclose that even before the issue happened, “there was already a line of people at his door to offer him a passport.”
The news isn’t surprising since Lafferty himself mentioned that Obiena is the “hottest thing in track and field.” “He’s gone from No. 30 to No. 10 to No. 8 to No. 5. and everyone’s scared of him. The Brazilian coach told me a couple of years ago, the number one guy out there is Obiena. He is going to win gold in big competitions.”
But has he ever considered vaulting for another country?
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At the moment, Obiena still wants to vault for his home country, says Lafferty. But it looks like he’s having a hard time doing that in peace. “He doesn’t want to leave the Philippines, he doesn’t want to do that. He wants to stay and vault here but how do you vault when your own federation is trying to kill you?”
Although the 26-year-old athlete did threaten to immediately retire if PATAFA finds truth in their accusation that he embezzled his funding. Lafferty even says that the mental, not to mention reputational, damage this mess has caused might give Obiena no choice. “If something doesn’t happen soon, in my opinion, he will never vault for the Philippines,” said Lafferty.
Why is PATAFA after EJ Obiena?
FALSE RUMORS, CHARACTER ASSASSINATION
EJ Obiena has denied reports surfaced on Sunday that the Patafa has ordered him to return 85,000 euros (around Php 4,800,000) in financial assistance after claims that he “falsified the liquidations submitted”.
— Philstar.com (@PhilstarNews) November 21, 2021
It started in mid-November 2021 when Obiena received a letter from PATAFA that shocked him. The federation accused him of falsifying liquidated documents and misusing his government funding. It asked that he pay back EUR 85,000 (P4.8-m) which was allegedly the unpaid coaching fee of Obiena’s Ukrainian coach, Vitaliy Petrov.
Inquirer reports that what actually sparked the controversy was a September 2021 phone call between PATAFA president Philip Juico and World Athletics Official Sergey Bubka. The latter mentioned Obiena’s “money problems,” a topic that got Petrov roped in on a different call with the two. During that call, Petrov allegedly mentioned that he hasn’t been paid his EUR 2,000 monthly since he was first hired to coach in 2018. After that, Bubka signed an affidavit that launched PATAFA’s investigation.