“MAKING mountains out of molehills.”
That is how Frank Elizalde, the Philippines former representative to the International Olympic Committee representative, viewed the conflict between the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association and pole-vaulter Ernest John Obiena.
Considered an elder statesman in the local sporting community, Elizalde made his sentiment known Wednesday during the online press conference organized by the PATAFA to ventilate its stand on the decision of the POC Executive Board last week to suspend the national track and field governing body.
The decision is not final and executory until two-thirds of the POC regular membership ratifies it, based on Article 4 Section 5 of the POC constitution and by-laws. Tolentino has called for a POC general assembly on March 30 to act on the matter.
The board’s decision came in the wake of the PATAFA’s decision not to endorse the Italy-based athlete at the last world indoor championships in Belgrade, Serbia and the 31st Vietnam Southeast Asian Games in May pending the result of the mediation process they agreed to under Philippine Sports Commission supervision.
Declining to elaborate further on his statement, Elizalde observed that “one solitary athlete (Obiena) seems to be the flavor of the month and everybody has to bow down to accede to his activities. Is that logical? Figure that out. That is all I have to say.”
Appearing in the same briefing, POC treasurer and board member Cynthia Carrion, a Tolentino ally, said she was worried that the board action would set “a dangerous precedent” so abstained during the previous week’s meeting.
“I abstained because the mediation between pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena and PATAFA (with the Philippine Sports Commission) is not yet over. I told this to Mikee (Cojuangco-Jaworski, an IOC Executive Board member) and she agreed with me,” Carrion said.
A POC press statement said Cojuangco, who is also the president of the equestrian association, did not attend the board meeting.
Also the president of the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines, Carrion said she was uncomfortable with any board decision that hinted at politics.
“As much as possible, I don’t want to be involved in anything that has to do with politics,” she said, referring to when PATAFA president Philip Juico and Tolentino contested the POC top post after boxing head Ricky Vargas resigned in early 2019 due to personal reasons.
In polls held at the Century Park Sheraton Hotel on July 28, 2019, Tolentino defeated Juico 24-20 to serve the remaining term of Vargas.
Juico, together with archery chief Clint Aranas, also questioned Tolentino’s apparent inaction over the POC general assembly resolution demanding the submission of financial statements of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee in 2020 to the POC, several months after the 2019 SEA Games was over.
Juico explained that the association continues to invoke its autonomy and independence in questioning the POC board decision.
He mentioned the February 10 letter of World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, who not only upheld PATAFA’s authority over track and field in the country but also noted that the issue with Obiena was an internal matter.
“We are not directly under the POC but answerable in our actions and decisions to our international federation,” stressed Juico, who bared that both World Athletics and the IOC were constantly being briefed on developments involving the controversy that has been dragging for months.
Also present at the briefing was weightlifting chief Monico Puentevella, who echoed Carrion’s concern that what the POC board did “might just burn all (the POC) of us down one of these days. The whole house can be burnt over just one athlete (Obiena).”
He repeated his proposal for the POC to withdraw its declaration of persona non grata against Juico, the board decision to suspend Patafa suspension, and the association’s reinstatement of Obiena to the national team as a solution to the sports crisis.
“What the POC board did was premature, whimsical and arbitrary because we in the PATAFA are still in the mediation process involving Obiena brokered by the PSC This was without due process,” said irate PATAFA chairman Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.
POC chairman Steve Hontiveros, who was also present in the briefing, cited PATAFA for standing up to its rights with the POC.
“If this happened to a small NSA wala na ’yan. Porke kalaban mo, dudurugin mo na? (If this happened to a small NSA, they would be goners. Just because an NSA is your enemy, you are going to crush it?” noted the former president of the International Bowling Federation and Philippine Bowling Congress.
Philippine Squash Association president Robert Bachmann, who ran with Juico under the ticket of Aranas in the 2020 POC election and was also present in the virtual meeting, issued a statement on the raging sports issue.
“This all I have to stay, everyone – it started with an error and poor lapse of judgment by a young athlete(Obiena). It happens to the best of us. The error stayed on for three years and then developed into a mistake. Mistakes are not inherently bad. What counts is how we view and react to them,” Bachmann said.
“The wrong and ill-advised responses of many in what started as a simple error has brought us to this point: a national sports crisis. A total disregard of the core values of the Olympics and the autonomy of the NSA and the disruption of the Olympic movement in the Philippines.
“There is no other recourse now but for World Athletics and the IOC to intervene. God bless everyone. Pray for the POC.”