EJ: I’m not wanted by my federation


A STATEMENT from the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) that shifted its accusation from a non-payment to a late payment by Ernest John “EJ” Obiena of his Ukranian coach’s salaries only added salt to a gaping wound that’s pushing the Olympic vaulter to retirement.

Obiena released a strongly-worded statement from his base in Italy on Tuesday that again slammed the Patafa’s easing of its embezzlement accusation on the Asian men’s pole vault record holder to delays in paying Vitaly Petrov his salaries.

“That’s a long way from embezzlement and theft that they accused me of. I am not a lawyer but as far as I know, paying late isn’t a crime,” the 25-year-old Obiena said. “I am alone in Italy, I train nine hours daily, and I have no help.”

“No other athlete here in the Olympic Training Center carries my burden of administration. I have repeatedly asked Patafa to pay my coaches directly and stop requiring me to disperse all funds,” he said.

“I am not an accountant. This is not a crime,” he stressed.

The Patafa stated in a statement on Monday that it “is bent on asking Obiena if he had paid Petrov on time, as he had claimed in various liquidation reports he submitted to the association.”

The statement also said that “instead of facing the committee, however, Obiena organized a virtual press conference to press ‘the full and public withdrawal of the investigation and a full public apology from the authorities involved’ in the probe.” Obiena strongly resented that statement.

“I am willing to ‘make peace’ on this case but I must have my good name cleared. I do not hold out much hope,” he said. “It is clear that I am not wanted by my federation in any shape or form. I am attacked without any due process and now narrative and accusations have somehow changed.”

He added: “I am destroyed mentally and reputationally. And the attacks keep coming. Clearly I am not wanted.”

Obiena said he was accused by Patafa of forging the liquidation documents of Petrov’s salaries for the period May 2018 to August 2021. But his coach said otherwise and helped clear the pole vaulter’s name and appeared with him in an online press conference on Sunday night.

There, Petrov confirmed Obiena paid him his salaries worth €85,000 (P4.8 million) albeit late.

Obiena, now ranked No. 5 in the world, said he has since asked Patafa to pay his coaches—Petrov, osteopath, physiotherapist and psychologist—but to no avail.

“Why doesn’t Patafa do [their] job and pay the coaches directly, allowing me to focus on training rather than accounting?” he said. “They put all the burden on me to perform all administration which I truly believe is not my job…I never wanted to be a middleman.”

Obiena also clearly hinted on taking a legal route to clear his name.

“I will complete the PWC [PricewaterhouseCoopers] Audit and I will finalize my legal recourse avenue,” he said. “Just say the word and I will formally retire from Philippine Athletics and being any part of Patafa.”

“Clearly, they or he don’t want me in the program based on their actions now and before,” he concluded.

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