Obiena's coach asks: 'What is PATAFA doing?'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 26 2022 01:43 PM

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Vitaly Petrov, the coach of Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena, has lashed out at the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) in the latest chapter of the feud between the national sports association and the Olympian.

In a statement shared on his Facebook page, Petrov stressed that "money has never been an issue" throughout the seven years that he has trained Obiena.

"After working hard for the past seven years, we are starting to see the results of our combined effort and hard work. We are now a true contender in the event and one of the best pole vaulters in the world," said Petrov, who has worked with some of the best in the sport including 2016 Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil.

"Now that the time has come for EJ to realize his hard work (and) reap the reward of our time and effort, then suddenly, PATAFA cancels me as their coach," he said.

PATAFA, headed by Philip Ella Juico, has alleged that the issue involving Obiena started last September when Petrov informed them that Obiena had not paid him his coaching fees. The PATAFA presented signed documents from Petrov, as well as legendary pole vaulter Sergey Bubka, the president of Ukraine's Olympic committee whom Petrov trained during his time.

But both Obiena and Petrov have denied the allegations made by the PATAFA, and the Ukrainian coach said that he has been paid in full by Obiena. In a statement in December, the 84-year-old Petrov said he was "tricked" by the PATAFA into making allegations against the pole vaulter.

Despite Obiena and Petrov's insistence that the issue of his coaching fees has been resolved, the PATAFA pursued its investigation into the athlete. In early January, they found that Obiena had "misappropriated" funds, and recommended that he be dropped from the national team pool. Petrov was also terminated as a coach, and the PATAFA expressed its intent to file a case against him before World Athletics for violating the international federation's Integrity Code of Conduct.

Earlier this week, Obiena had declined the offer made by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) to mediate between the two parties, citing the bad faith actions done by the PATAFA and Juico.

These developments have irked Petrov, who said in his statement that he "was never Philip Juico's pole vault coach."

"I am the coach of Thiago Braz, Sergey Bubka, Yelena Isinbaeva and EJ Obiena. I am proudly the coach of these hard-working athletes," he declared. 

"In my humble view, I have helped a young boy from a country that didn't have the history or the resources to create a world-class pole vaulter," Petrov also said. "Now that EJ is finally a top 5 pole vaulter in the world, his own federation president, Philip Ella Juico, kicks him out of the team for nothing."

Petrov, who has been training Obiena in Italy for the past several years, said that this was the first time in his 57 years of coaching that he has been "scorned" by a federation of any nation.

"If this federation is dropping a world-class athlete instead of helping, drops his coach who have trained him to be one of the best pole vaulters, brands a sports patron persona non grata who have done nothing but helped bring this Filipino boy to where he is now, then I ask what is this federation doing?" Petrov said of the PATAFA.

Obiena, 26, is currently ranked fifth among pole vaulters by World Athletics, and holds the Asian record in the event after clearing 5.93-meters in an event in Austria last September. Petrov, in his statement, noted that they have improved the Philippine record by almost one meter, "and we plan to improve it more."

Obiena, who shared his coach's statement on his own Facebook page, apologized to Petrov for getting him involved in the situation with the PATAFA.

"I am truly sorry, coach, for the mess that this has brought to you," said Obiena.

He also expressed his gratitude to Petrov, noting that the Ukrainian icon not only helped him improve as a pole vaulter, but also kept believing in him after he suffered a torn ACL in 2017 ahead of the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur.

"He told me five words I will never forget: I am waiting for you," Obiena said of Petrov. "I wept like a little boy. I don't know why a coach who has won it all and has all the options in the world would still want me, a guy with a broken leg."

"Thank you coach, for always looking out for me, for wanting me to be the best that I can possibly be, for pushing me to represent my country honorably, to always carry myself with pride and honor, a true representative of my country and to be best version that I can be," he added.


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