PATAFA to push through with Obiena investigation, questions timing of payments to coach Petrov

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 22 2021 05:31 PM | Updated as of Nov 22 2021 05:39 PM

PATAFA President Philip Ella Juico. File photo.
PATAFA President Philip Ella Juico. File photo.

MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) intends to pursue its investigation into pole vaulter EJ Obiena, despite the athlete's insistence that the federation's allegations against him are all false.

It was reported on Sunday that PATAFA has ordered Obiena to return 85,000 euros (over P4.8 million) to the federation. The money was meant to be paid to his coach, Vitaly Petrov of Ukraine, but PATAFA alleged that Obiena did not do so. They also accused the pole vaulter of falsifying his liquidation documents submitted to the federation.

In a press conference on Sunday evening, Obiena appeared together with his coach, and the Olympian stressed that the accusations made by PATAFA were "all false."

"I welcome any court of law to shed light under the power of evidence and investigate this matter," said Obiena, who demanded a public apology and a retraction from PATAFA, as well as a withdrawal of the investigation being done by the federation into the issue.

"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. If this does not happen, I will consider my other options, being an immediate retirement from the sport," he said.

PATAFA, in a statement on Monday, said they "take exception" to Obiena's "threat of retirement."

"PATAFA rebuffs Obiena's claim of character assassination, stating that the investigation conducted by the Board was purely internal and kept away from the public," said the statement attributed to PATAFA president Philip Ella Juico.

"PATAFA, however, disclosed that it acted on a statement signed by Obiena's coach, Vitaly Petrov, who informed the Association that he did not receive payment for his services to Obiena," Juico added.

According to the federation, Petrov's claim of non-payment was backed by a signed affidavit from pole vaulting legend Sergey Bubka of Ukraine, now the president of his country's Olympic committee as well as a senior vice president of the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Obiena, in Sunday's press conference, insisted that "no such letter exists."

"This is fraud, pure and simple. Ask PATAFA to produce such a document; they cannot. For an organization that profess to uphold something like honesty as a principle, I think it's irony and hypocrisy. It's nothing short of shocking," he said.

Petrov, who trained Bubka during his athletic career, said during the press conference that he has no issue with Obiena, and that he has been fully paid the sum of 85,000 euros. He also showed a letter addressed to Juico, where he informed the PATAFA president that he has been paid his coaching fee by Obiena.

In the same letter, Petrov also expressed his desire to coach Obiena up to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Coach Vitaly Petrov's letter, addressed to PATAFA President Philip Ella Juico.
Coach Vitaly Petrov's letter, addressed to PATAFA President Philip Ella Juico.

Juico, in his statement, said that PATAFA "is bent on asking Obiena if he had paid Petrov on time, as he had claimed in various liquidation reports he submitted to the association."

"Obiena has reported to PATAFA that he had turned over Petrov's salary from May 2018 to August 2021 on time. Records, however, revealed that Obiena had settled obligations with Petrov only recently this month and not during the months that he had officially reported to have paid his coach's salary," Juico said.

"These payments, late as they were as noted by the Board, were made in tranches through banks based in Dubai, Germany, and Manila," he added. 

"The discrepancy in Obiena's reports, and the documents from Petrov and Bubka inquiring about the coach's salary have prompted the PATAFA investigation."

In a message to Dyan Castillejo of ABS-CBN News, Juico also said: "The PATAFA-created investigating committee is looking into it and I'd like to defer them to respect their prerogative and credibility. I'm just here to ensure that sports and athletics are used for the good and to help transform and bring out the best in the Filipino youth." 

Obiena on Sunday admitted that he did not always submit his liquidation paperwork on time, and that some may have been done "in sloppy fashion."

"I'm a pole vaulter, not an accountant, not in any shape or form," he said, while adding that he has repeatedly requested PATAFA to directly pay his coach as well as other members of his team.

"I have no desire to play the middle man, but this has been refused, somehow. I have not always handled the paperwork well, and I'm sorry, very, very sorry for this," said Obiena.

"But to take this fact and suddenly construe false accusations of theft and embezzlement is beyond honest principle. It's a disgusting abuse of power, and it is in itself a criminal activity called slander and defamation of character," he added.

Obiena has filed complaints with the Philippine Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee, and the IAAF regarding the issue. 

POC president Rep. Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino has said that the complaint has been referred to their ethics committee and will be investigated.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Sports Commission said they are letting Obiena and PATAFA "sort the matter internally."