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From alleged embezzling of training funds to retirement plans

EJ Obiena and PATAFA’s ongoing funding row

By Hannah Mallorca Published Nov 22, 2021 8:52 pm Updated Dec 03, 2021 5:10 pm

Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena is involved in a public spat with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) after the federation accused the Olympian of allegedly embezzling his training funds and not paying his current coach Vitaly Petrov.

The PATAFA previously ordered Obiena to pay back €85,000 (over P4.8 million) in coaching fees after claiming that he “falsified the liquidations submitted” to the federation. Obiena immediately denied the reports, noting that a “full and public withdrawal of investigation and a full public from the authorities involved.”

The fate of Obiena’s pole vaulting career remains uncertain, since he revealed that he’s “considering immediate retirement” from the sport. But in the meantime, let’s take a look back at the controversy and how it all began. 

Morning of Nov. 21 - PATAFA orders Obiena to return €85,000 (over P4.8 million) in training funds

On Sunday morning, Nov. 21, the Inquirer published a report that Obiena is being investigated by the PATAFA for allegedly “falsifying the liquidations submitted.” He has also been ordered to return €85,000 (over P4.8 million) which “have not been paid” to Petrov.

The report also claimed that Petrov and former Soviet-Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergey Bubka wrote to the organization that Obiena “falsified” his liquidation forms. The aforementioned letter was “signed by members of a committee” formed to investigate the matter. 

Afternoon of Nov. 21 - Obiena, Petrov denies the report on social media

Obiena immediately took to Facebook on the same day to deny the reports, noting they’re “100% false and represent nothing more than character assassination.”

The pole vaulter also maintained that he will “fiercely” defend his reputation from “baseless allegations,” which exposes the “political underbelly of some in the world of sports.” 

In a separate post via Obiena’s Instagram, Petrov also stressed that he has been “fully paid” by the pole vaulter.

Evening of Nov. 21 - Obiena to take legal action vs. PATAFA, mulls retirement plans 

In a virtual press conference on Sunday evening, Obiena stressed that “no such letter” exists, noting that PATAFA’s accusations have “damaged my reputation and is now forever a part of my history.” 

Obiena also called for a “full and public withdrawal of investigation” from the authorities involved. He also maintained that he settled his training funds with Petrov before the controversy, stating that he contains “signed documents asserting this fact.” 

While Obiena stressed there is no embezzlement between him and Petrov, he shared that he will file formal complaints against the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), International Olympic Committee (IOC), and World Athletics over the accusations made by the PATAFA.

The pole vaulter also revealed that he would consider retiring from the sport since it’s “futile for me to continue.” “I'm a 26-year-old in life. I can't waste somebody's time. I'm happy to walk away. I'm proud of where I am, I'm proud of what I brought to the country, I'm proud of what I have achieved.” 

Nov. 22 - PATAFA to pursue investigation vs. Obiena

In a follow-up report by the Inquirer on Nov. 22, PATAFA said it will push through with its investigation against Obiena. The federation also belied the embattled athlete’s claim of “character assassination,” noting the investigation was “purely internal” and had been kept away from the public. 

In response to Obiena’s virtual press conference, the PATAFA board also claimed that it “wants to know the schedule” of the athlete’s payment to Petrov, noting he had been late in settling payment obligations with his coach.

PhilSTAR L!fe has reached out to PATAFA for additional comment, but the federation has yet to respond, as of this writing. 

Afternoon of Nov. 23 - Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) to investigate Obiena vs PATAFA funding row

The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham Tolentino ordered its ethics committee to investigate Obiena and PATAFA’s funding row. He also said the embattled athlete’s imminent retirement would be a “big blow” to Philippine sports. 

“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

Afternoon of Nov. 23 - Obiena fires back at PATAFA on social media

Following PATAFA’s response, Obiena expressed his frustration over PATAFA’s “recent statement and shifting allegations” on social media. “I am personally shocked at the recent statement & shifting allegations of PATAFA. From their written letters of accusing me of embezzlement; to suddenly changing it to timing of payments?”

Obiena also maintained that he settled his payment obligations to Petrov, noting that while he paid his coach late, he “sometimes cannot manage the workload and training and get everything done to PATAFA’s satisfaction.” 

“What's now clear, and we all agree… I never took a single centavo of money from my coach,” Obiena continued. “It is clear 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.”

“I will complete the PWC Audit, and I will finalize my legal recourse avenues. Just say the word, and I will formally retire from the Philippines Athletics and being any part of the PATAFA,” he added. 

Nov. 24 - PSC demands Obiena and PATAFA to ‘refrain from issuing statements to the public and on social media’

 In a statement, the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) requested Obiena and the PATAFA to stop “issuing statements to the public and on social media,” noting that “separate dialogues” between two parties have been “quietly” made.

The PSC said it hopes that Obiena and the PATAFA will allow a “dialogue” to resolve the matter. An update will soon be released when both parties arrive at the “positive outcome and settlement.”