Nothing to hide

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

There is talk that the Senate may call for a hearing to get to the bottom of the mess involving world No. 5 pole vaulter EJ Obiena and PATAFA, the NSA threatening to drop him as a national athlete. Since the squabble broke out late last year, several senators have issued statements in Obienas defense. Senate president Tito Sotto, Sen. Pia Cayetano, Sen. Manny Pacquiao and PATAFA honorary chairman Sen. Bong Go have expressed their support for Obiena. If the Senate hearing pushes through, PATAFA will be given a chance to air its side.

Obienas adviser Jim Lafferty, a Dubai-based American CEO married to a Filipina and a sports philanthropist, said he welcomes the opportunity to defend the pole vaulter before the Senate. “Ive lived in Manila for many years and Im acquainted with the conduct of Senate hearings,” he said. “The hearings are fair and professionally done. If Im asked to shed light on issues involving EJ, Ill gladly participate. I have nothing to hide. Ive submitted all the documents asked for by PATAFAs investigating committee. Whatever PATAFA has accused EJ of wrongdoing, he has the evidence to show no guilt. Is there any government money missing? The answer is no and we have documents to prove it.”

Lafferty said PATAFAs accusation of Obiena embezzling funds is baseless. “Hes also accused of falsifying liquidation documents but everybody knows the procedure is you ask somebody to sign a receipt even without payment so you submit the receipt to PSC for reimbursement,” said Lafferty. “Everybodys doing that. Its how its done. Its an archaic system and its wrong. Its a vicious cycle but thats how payments are processed. Sometimes, you front the money. If the accusation is EJ was late in liquidating, he could be guilty but remember, hes a national athlete, not an accountant. Hes under a lot of stress as an athlete so why give him more stress?”

Lafferty said by now, Obiena should be back training in Formia, Italy. He underwent a 90-minute procedure to repair a small meniscal tear in the left knee and remove a loose screw from a previous ACL operation at a clinic in Germany last Tuesday. Obiena was supposed to be conscious during the operation but was given general anesthesia by Dr. Dimiri Alexander Jontschew. “It was decided to do general anesthesia because we couldnt risk movement by EJ,” said Lafferty. “We consulted Dr. Andrew Tabberah who performed EJs ACL operation in 2017 about removing the loose screw. It really wasnt debatable. If left in the knee, it couldve irritated other tendons and ligaments so the decision was to remove the screw. Dr. Jontschew filled the hole with a bone filler that solidified quickly to mold with the bone. When EJ woke up from surgery, the screw was on a plate near his bed.”

Lafferty said Obiena plans to compete at the Init Indoor Meeting in Karlsruhe, Germany, on Jan. 28. “The world record holder and Olympic gold medalist Mondo Duplantis will compete in Karlsruhe,” said Lafferty. “If EJ finishes top three, he should be applauded coming out of surgery after two weeks. If he finishes, lets say, seventh, its to be expected. We still dont know if EJ will compete in Berlin on Feb. 3 but hes got his sights set on the Asian Indoor Athletics Championships in Kazakhstan on Feb. 11-13.” No Filipino athlete has ever won a gold medal in eight Asian Indoors since the first competition in Tehran in 2004.


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