EJ Obiena gets chorus of support online after PATAFA’s decision to drop him

January 4, 2022 - 4:53 PM
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A photo of pole vaulter EJ Obiena carrying the Philippine flag (Facebook/EJ Obiena)

Supporters of pole vaulter EJ Obiena rallied behind him after the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) recommended his removal from the national training pool.

In a press conference on Tuesday, January 4, the PATAFA committee also said that it is set to charge Obiena a criminal complaint of estafa.

“A criminal complaint for estafa be filed against EJ Obiena insofar as the funds of PATAFA in the amount of €6,000 (P360,000) are concerned representing the coaching fees for the months of May 2018 to August 2018,” part of the recommendations read as cited in a report.

Based on their findings, its committee alleged that the Filipino athlete “misappropriated the amount of €61,026 (P3,661,608 more or less) which were released to him by the PATAFA/PSC (Philippine Sports Commission) as payment for coaching fee of Mr. Petrov but which were not paid as of August 2021.”

PATAFA also ordered the termination of engagement with his coach Ukrainian Vitaly Petrov.

Moreover, the sports association declared James Michael Lafferty, Obiena’s mentor, as “persona non grata.”

“The recommendations have just been made public today. We will have to sit down to work out the mechanics, the procedures,” PATAFA Chief Dr. Philip Ella Juico was quoted in a report as saying.

“People will have to be notified, arrangements will have to be made. It is not an instant thing that we can do.” Juico added.

These developments came a week after the Philippine Olympics Committee (POC) declared Juico as persona non grata due to the ongoing funding row with the pole vaulter.

Both parties figured in an intense word war last November after PATAFA conducted a probe over Obiena’s alleged unpaid coaching fees to Petrov.

Despite their conflict, the award-winning athlete still pledged to represent the Philippines in international competitions in the future.

RELATED: ‘I fight for higher principles’: EJ Obiena to continue representing Philippines despite row

Standing up for EJ

The terms “PATAFA” and “EJ Obiena” reached the trending topics on Twitter Philippines following PATAFA’s announcement.

Obiena’s supporters slammed the athletics organization for its recommendations instead of helping him.

“Can’t wait for EJ to win an Olympic medal so they look like fools,” one Twitter user said.

“PATAFA who??? I hope these clowns get the karma they deserve. Athlete ba sila or sports enthusiasts?? Ugh. EJ deserves better,” another Twitter user said.

“Why disqualify the athlete? He is an athlete, he trains and aims to win that’s all! Did he actually do the liquidation himself and payment to his coach? Oh c’mon. He’s a pride and he can win,” one online user said.

“PATAFA was probably afraid that going easy on EJ Obiena would embolden more athletes to speak up. Hoping other athletes would stand behind EJ now more than ever,’” tweeted another online user.

Others addressed PATAFA’s processes of liquidation and payments which should have been out of Obiena’s hands.

“If payments are made and received by Coach, why is there a need to be directly from PSC’s accounts?” a Twitter user asked.

“Sobrang hirap ba sa PATAFA na mag-apologize kay EJ and admit they made a mistake? Sobrang hirap ba para sa government agencies na ayusin ang liquidation process at hindi ipasa ang trabaho sa mga atleta? They risk losing an excellent athlete for what? For their egos?” a Twitter user also asked.

Some online users called for the termination of PATAFA’s officials or abolish the group altogether.

“It’s time to abolish PATAFA. Save great Filipino athletes!” one Facebook user said.

Reports said the POC vowed to continue backing Obiena.

POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said they will fight for Obiena.

“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,” was quoted by ABS-CBN as saying. 

Tolentino furthered that the decision to remove Obiena from the national team is now up to the PSC.

“Will the PSC allow EJ to be stricken off from the national team? Will the government allow a world-class athlete to be out of the national team?” Tolentino said.

“Being the Asian record holder, No. 6 in the world and No. 3 best performer in 2021, will the PSC allow one gold medal to be lost in Hangzhou, long before the Asian Games?” he added.

In his year-ender post last January 2, Obiena shared that he triple-tied at the third spot, Highest jump (outdoor) for the World Athletics for men’s pole vault for 2021. He said that he was only Top 13 in 2020.

“So much to be grateful for. And so much to look forward to. Thank you for all your support and for believing in me. I will keep on striving to be better,” he said on Facebook.