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Sports

PATAFA stands ground, calls out Obiena for 'late payment' of coach

Luisa Morales - Philstar.com
PATAFA stands ground, calls out Obiena for 'late payment' of coach
The Philippines' Ernest John Obiena competes during the Pole Vault Men competition of the ISTAF Indoor (Internationales Stadionfest) international athletics meeting on February 5, 2021 in Berlin.
Tobias Schwarz / Pool / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — The relationship between the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) and EJ Obiena is hanging by a thread as the federation remains defiant in its case against the pole vaulter.

Despite vehement rebuttals from Obiena and his coach Vitaly Petrov of the initial allegations of embezzlement and "de facto" stealing of funds, PATAFA continued burning bridges with the Olympian.

On Monday, the sports body did not walk back on its allegations and also downplayed Obiena's claims of staining his reputation with the investigation.

"PATAFA rebuffs Obiena's claim of character assassination, stating that the investigation by the Board was purely internal and kept away from the public," Patafa's statement read, attributed to federation president Philip Ella Juico.

An unnamed source, however, had leaked the documents on the investigation to Inquirer on Sunday, which prompted Obiena to come out publicly to address it.

Adding to that, PATAFA also shifted the allegations from embezzlement of the funds to just simply paying Petrov later than what Obiena reported in his liquidation reports.

"Obiena has reported to PATAFA that he had turned over Petrov's salary from May 2018 to August 2021 on time. Records, however, revealed that Obiena had settled obligations with Petrov only recently this month and not during the months that he had officially reported to have paid his coach's salary," PATAFA said.

The federation's move to change its allegations did not sit right with the 26-year-old pole vaulter and seemed to aggrevate the estranged relationship even more.

"Instead of admitting they were wrong, they now change the subject: Now the issue is, apparently, I perhaps did not pay Petrov 'on time'," Obiena wrote in his latest press statement on Tuesday.

"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. I have already admitted I am a pole vaulter — not an accountant," he added.

Petrov himself went on record during Sunday's press conference that he did not have "any problems" with Obiena.

But PATAFA claims that they have a signed affidavit from pole vaulting legend Sergey Bubka of Ukraine to support Petrov's alleged claim of non-payment.

Obiena did admit that he may have been amiss in paying Petrov "on time". 

However, the pole vaulter continued with a solution that his federation could have done to avoid the whole problem in the first place.

"Have I ever paid Vitaly Petrov late? Yes, I have. I just sometimes cannot manage the workload and the training and get everything done to PATAFA's satisfaction... They could help me by simply paying people directly — but they refuse this very simple solution for some reason; and now they accuse me of wrongdoing when I never wanted the job of paymaster to begin with," Obiena wrote.

"I do a job I am not supposed to be doing and then I am out on public trial for doing that very job? The real question is, why doesn't PATAFA do their job and pay their coaches directly, allowing me to focus on training rather than accounting?," he continued.

While it remains unclear what comes of the whole issue and PATAFA's investigation on Obiena, it seems that the bond between the federation and one of the country's best bets at another Olympic medal remains firmly in peril.

"I am willing to 'make peace' on this case but I must have my good name cleared. I do not hold out much hope," Obiena said.

"It is clear I am not wanted by my Federation in any shape or form," he added.

EJ OBIENA POLE VAULT
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