Editorial cartoon by Enrico Santisas
The rift between Philippine Olympic outfielder Ernest John “EJ” Obiena and the Philippine Athletic Track and Field Association (Patafa) has become a public spectacle. It got ugly. And to call the situation “ugly” is an understatement.
The Patafa Investigative Committee recommended Obiena’s expulsion from the national athletics pool “with immediate effect” for allegedly producing false liquidation papers and embezzling the 3.6 million pesos he received from him. paid by Patafa and the Philippine Sports Commission for the salary of his Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov.
Other people were not spared by Patafa: Petrov is about to face a complaint from Patafa to World Athletics (the governing body of track and field athletes) for alleged “violation of the code of conduct of integrity; the athlete’s mother was charged with misappropriation of P624,116.76; and Obiena’s adviser, James Lafferty, should be declared persona non grata by Patafa.
Patafa’s decision came after the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) declared Patafa President Philip Ella Juico persona non grata. The POC made its statement, taking into account the recommendation of its ethics committee to declare Juico an unacceptable person for allegedly harassing Obiena.
The POC, however, did not withdraw, suspend or reprimand Juico. The organization, through its president, representative Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, said that while the president of a national sports association “is not part of the purpose and purpose of the CEP to protect and care for well-being of the athlete, then he or she does not deserve POC recognition.
The Patafa-Obiena dispute is said to have originated in the late payment of Obiena’s wages to Petrov while they were training in Formia, Italy, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Obiena hit back at Patafa, claiming he had already paid Petrov in full after three payments. Not paying your European coach on time is not a crime, said the star athlete. Petrov backed Obiena, issuing an official statement that he had already received the full amount owed to him.
Patafa is on the verge of filing a complaint against Obiena, which the athlete welcomes as he can clear his name through the legal process and not through the court of public opinion.
It was not the first time that Patafa, led by Juico, has mingled with an athlete. In 2017, Patafa decided to bar Cebuana Mary Joy Tabal, the Philippines’ first Olympic marathoner, from competing in the 29th Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The organization had disputed the fact that the marathoner did not want to train in Manila.
Tabal was able to compete after being reinstated after Patafa granted her request. She eventually won the first gold medal for the Philippines in the biennial competition.
As for Obiena, he did not win any medals at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. However, Obiena was somewhat proud of the Philippines as he was the only Asian to reach the pole vault final, finishing in 11th place. . Obiena is currently ranked 6th in the world.
The Summer Olympics, which took place in 2021 after a delay caused by a wave of Covid-19 cases in Japan in 2020, was a medal harvest for the Philippines team with weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz in leading the pack by winning the country’s first ever gold medal since his first appearance at the Olympics in 1924.
The Patafa-Obiena divide is bad communication for Filipino sports, and it could send waves of pessimism to domestic athletes.