Obiena unsure of pole vaulting future after PATAFA allegations

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 22 2021 11:37 AM

Philippines' Ernest John Obiena prepares to compete during the men's pole vault event at The Diamond League AG Memorial Van Damme athletics meeting at The King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels in this September 3, 2021 file photo. John Thys, AFP.
Philippines' Ernest John Obiena prepares to compete during the men's pole vault event at The Diamond League AG Memorial Van Damme athletics meeting at The King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels in this September 3, 2021 file photo. John Thys, AFP.

MANILA, Philippines -- EJ Obiena, who holds the national and Asian record in the pole vault, is unsure on how to progress with his athletic career after allegations made against him by his own federation, the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA).

It was reported on Sunday by the Philippine Daily Inquirer that PATAFA is ordering Obiena to return a sum of 85,000 euros, which was meant to be paid to Obiena's coach, Vitaly Petrov. The federation alleged that Obiena did not pay the money to his coach and also "falsified the liquidations submitted" to PATAFA.

The allegations were vehemently denied by both Obiena and Petrov, who produced on Sunday documents proving that Obiena had already paid his salary in full.

Obiena admitted that the situation has been difficult for him, to the point where he is considering stepping away from pole vaulting even though he is arguably approaching the prime of his athletic career.

"The only resolution to this now, is a full and public withdrawal of investigation, and a full public apology from the authorities involved in this," Obiena said. "If this does not happen, I will consider my other options, being an immediate retirement from the sport that I love."

Obiena, 26, explained that training has become all but impossible for him in recent days, with the situation dangling over his head.

"I haven't trained. I trained just to be present in training but, mentally having this dangling on my head, it's next to impossible for me to focus and deal with the things I should be dealing with, which is training," he said.

That there are plenty of competitions next year -- including the Southeast Asian Games and the Asian Games -- make the recent developments all the more painful for Obiena.

Obiena had rebounded well from a disappointing performance in the Tokyo Olympics, his maiden stint in the Summer Games, and re-set the Philippine and Asian record in pole vault with a leap of 5.93-meters in Austria last September.

He is widely expected to defend his gold medal in the SEA Games next year in Vietnam and should be the favorite as well for the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.

However, Obiena said he hasn't "trained the way I shouldn't be training, especially coming this year where a lot of championships are already in line."

Asked about his plans for the SEA Games and the Asian Games, Obiena's answer was swift.

"I don't really know," he admitted. "Having all this, I don't know what I'm going to do in the next few days."

"I'm here in Italy, as I said, on behalf of the Philippines to train and hone my craft to represent the country in those competitions. But unfortunately, as said in that article that was written, all my funding is cut and that's true. That is true," he added. 

"So I'm not entirely sure how am I supposed to continue with all this going on."

Obiena has previously said that he is targeting the Paris Olympics in 2024 after placing 11th in the Tokyo Games, but at the moment he does not know if he can make it there.

"That's a question I think, that needs to be answered by the federation as they cut all my funding. And they said that, they have no intention of supporting me as long as this investigation is going on," said the pole-vaulter.

"Therefore, I'm at their mercy," he pointed out.

"I don't control any of the situation at the moment. I was never asked to even explain myself. So I have no idea moving forward. And as I stated before, I'm just thinking about all the options that I currently have and what they would basically push me to do."

PATAFA has yet to respond to a request for comment from ABS-CBN News.

Obiena, who came back from an ACL tear in 2017 to compete in the Olympics, said he will be fine even if he is forced to retire early because of the current situation with him and the athletics federation.

"I'm only here in the field because I truly believe that I'm capable of producing something, and able to perform the way I should have in Tokyo. This is why I'm still continuing," he said. "But with the current situation, I cannot train."

"It's impossible for me to even perform the way I should be, because of these distractions coming around me. So I see it futile for me to continue with the current situation that I have," he added. "Therefore, the most reasonable move for me is to consider every option, one of which is retirement."

"I'm 26 years old now. And you know, life continues. It's not something that stops for me. I don't want to waste anybody's time. If I cannot jump, if I'm not performing to the point that I can represent the Philippines fairly, I'm very happy to walk away and accept that fact."

"If I cannot represent the country due to the circumstances that I've been dealt with, I might as well move forward. I think at that point of my career where I have, I'm proud of where I'm at, I'm proud of what I accomplished and brought to the country."

"I can move forward and live and say you know, I'm proud of what I have achieved. If this is the end for me, I can live my life somehow," he said.