Obiena SEA Games bid depends on PSC ‘mediation’, says PATAFA official

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Mar 09 2022 01:52 AM | Updated as of Mar 09 2022 05:04 AM

EJ Obiena in action at the ISTAF Indoor international athletics meeting in Berlin, February 5, 2021. Maja Hitij pool, EPA-EFE/file
EJ Obiena in action at the ISTAF Indoor international athletics meeting in Berlin, February 5, 2021. Maja Hitij pool, EPA-EFE/file

NATIONAL training director Renato Unso of the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association said Tuesday that the Philippine Olympic Committee mistakenly presumed that pole-vaulter Ernest John Obiena was absolutely excluded from the national team that will vie in the 31st Vietnam Southeast Asian Games in May.  

Acting on the authority of the PATAFA board led by president Philip Ella Juico, Unso said he had written Obiena on February 28 that his inclusion to the national squad to the Vietnam SEA Games and 3 other international meets was “pending completion of the mediation process organized by the Philippine Sports Commission.” 

“The deadline for entry by name is on March 13 so there is still time for EJ (Obiena’s nickname) to be included once the mediation process brokered by the PSC between PATAFA and the athlete is resolved before that,” said Unso, the PATAFA National Capital Region director.

He was responding to a statement of Philippine Olympic Committee president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, who expressed his dismay that the 2019 Southeast Asian Games gold medalist was not in the provisional list submitted by the PATAFA for the Vietnam Games set May 12 to 23 in Hanoi and neighboring areas. 

He said Obiena had written the PATAFA board on February 24 requesting that the national track body endorse his participation not only in the Vietnam SEA Games but also in 3 other overseas competitions.

“I Ernest John Obiena, pole vaulter, hereby formally signify my intent and desire to represent our country, the Philippines, in the following international sporting events this year,” the athlete wrote in the letter with the salutation “Dear Patafa and Honorable members.”

Besides the Vietnam Games, Obiena had requested PATAFA accreditation for the world indoor championships scheduled March 18 to 20 in Belgrade, Serbia, the world athletic championships in Eugene, Oregon in July, and the Hangzhou Asian Games in China in September.

“I am submitting this letter to request for my endorsement to these events and facilitate my inclusion to the national teams being informed,” he stressed, ending his letter with “respectfully yours.”

Unso acknowledged that the PATAFA had not endorsed the entry of Obiena to the Belgrade meet because he only agreed to the mediation process last February 28, after which the track body renewed its commitment to the PSC initiative the following day.

A former national standout in the men’s 400-meters, Unso said the mediation between the two parties presided by PSC chairman William “Butch” Ramirez started only last Monday, March 7, the world indoor meet's registration deadline. 

“The registration deadline for the Belgrade competition was March 7 but we had only begun the mediation so we were unable to endorse EJ to the meet,” Unso said. 

The Italy-based Obiena acknowledged this possibility on his Facebook page hours before the deadline, saying: “If @pet Rouen is my last indoor competition of the year, I’m grateful. I never thought this season would be even more so a new personal best and a national record.”

The athlete alluded to his jump of 5.91 meters, a new national indoor mark, in settling for second behind American Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Christopher Nielsen at the Perche Elite Tour men’s pole vault competition last Sunday morning (Saturday evening in Europe) in Rouen, France.

“I hope I would be able to see you @wabelgrade22 and compete for the colors of the Philippines in the World Indoor Championships. As the clock ticks, nearing the deadline of entry and uncertainty looms upon me, I pray,” he said.

Unso said Obiena could have avoided his predicament had he earlier agreed to the peacemaking efforts of Ramirez, who had urged both parties to come to the bargaining table as early as December in preventing what has become dragging full-blown controversy.

He stressed that it was Obiena who declined the PSC mediation process twice, the last time on January 24, accusing Juico of “bad faith” as the reason for not taking part in the exercise.

As a goodwill gesture to the PSC, the PATAFA announced on January 5 it had suspended its sanctions against the athlete, whom an internal inquiry found to have falsified his liquidation papers of the funds directly given to him by the PSC, with the local track body’s approval, in his build-up to the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The findings allegedly included the forged signatures of Obiena’s Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov, who had complained to his compatriot and World Athletics Senior Vice President Sergey and Juico in September that he had not been paid his wages from 2018 to Aug. 2021.

This was contained in the sworn statement that Bubka, also the Ukrainian Olympic Committee President and who became a world and Olympic champion through Petrov’s mentoring, issued in October last year, triggering the Patafa inquiry. 

The PATAFA found a strong ally in its conflict with Obiena in no less than World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, who wrote Juico last February 8 affirming the local track body’s total authority over athletics in the country, adding that its issues with Obiena were an “internal matter.”

Minus a PATAFA endorsement, Obiena’s participation in the 3 competitions he wants to join is highly unlikely.

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