Pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena decried the accusations an association of Filipino athletes lodged at him relating to payments for his Ukranian coach.
The Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) previously conducted a probe into Obiena over his alleged unpaid fees to Vitaly Petrov, according to an Inquirer report last Sunday, November 21.
The report also said that Patafa made these allegations against Obiena through a letter.
“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 association was quoted as saying.
Based on the letter quoted in the report, it was former Soviet-Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergey Bubka and Petrov who wrote to Patafa concerning the alleged false liquidation forms.
In the letter sent to the news outlet, funding for Obiena’s training in Formia, Italy was also suspending following the probe of the committee Patafa created.
Obiena later denied all Patafa’s accusations and described them as “character assassination” on Facebook.
He also held a press conference that night with his coach to counter Patafa’s claims.
From stealing money to overdue payments
In a new statement on November 23, the pole vaulter questioned Patafa over its sudden “shift” from alleged embezzlement to not paying Petrov on time.
“I am personally shocked at the recent statement and shifting allegations of Patafa. From their written letters of accusing me of embezzlement; to suddenly changing it to timing of payments?” Obiena wrote.
He also stressed that delayed payment isn’t a crime.
“After Vitaly himself appeared live in the press conference on November 20, refuting these allegations, now they suddenly changed the written accusations. Instead of admitting they were wrong, they now changed the subject: Now the issue is, apparently, I perhaps did not pay Petrov ‘on time’,” Obiena said.
“That’s a long way from embezzlement and theft that they have accused me of. I am not a lawyer, but as far as I know, paying late isn’t a crime,” he added.
Obiena admitted that there was an instance that he paid his coach late.
However, it was because the athlete was juggling heavy workload such as training, paperwork and logistics he had to juggle.
Obiena then fired back at the association that it could have handled the payment for his coaches directly.
Doing so will allow him to focus on training rather than accounting and other administrative work, the 26-year-old pole vaulter said.
“The real question is, why doesn’t Patafa do their job and pay the coaches directly, allowing me to focus on training rather than accounting?” Obiena said.
“They put all the burden on me to perform all administration which I truly believe is not my job,” he added.
According to an article of Spin.ph, Petrov, the renowned pole vaulting coach, sent a letter addressed to Patafa President Philip Juico.
In this letter, the coach informed Juico that he had already received full salary since he started coaching the latter in 2018.
Meanwhile, Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham Tolentino ordered its ethics committee to investigate the funding row between Obiena and Patafa.
“We are in deepest regret to realize that one of our Olympians, multi-medalist and great inspiration Ernest John Obiena of athletics, to be involved in this squabble with his home federation,” Tolentino said in a statement.
To sue Patafa?
Obiena threatened to sue Patafa over its persistent accusations against him.
“I will clear my name. I will raise all legal challenges and I want this to put into a court of law where all evidence must be exposed. Patafa keeps saying they have a signed written complaint from Vitaly Petrov. Vitaly claims the exact opposite,” he said.
Obiena also questioned the supposed “leak” of Patafa’s documents to the media.
“Patafa has leaked every other document. Why have they not leaked the signed affidavit of Vitaly Petrov? Perhaps because it doesn’t exist? Now that is a crime. Falsifying the existence of a document. It’s called fraud!” he said.
In a press conference last Sunday, Obiena also mulled on retiring early from the sport should the matter not be resolved.
“I will consider my other options being an immediate retirement from the sport that I love in the Philippines and probably return to school,” he said.