Is someone playing Patafa against Obiena?

(This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Obiena. My apologies)

Is someone trying to create a rift between the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association and its prized athlete EJ Obiena?

The country was shocked to learn that one of its favorite Olympians was being ordered to return P4.8 million in financial assistance since he failed to pay his coach, Vitaly Petrov. That order was based on the written statement of Olympic legend Sergey Bubka and Petrov that was sent to Patafa.

TARNISHED NAME. Just 10 weeks after setting the Asian record for pole vault, EJ Obiena got the shock of his life after he was accused of not paying his coach.

Obiena and Petrov readily appeared in a press conference the next day and the coach cleared the Asian record holder–he got paid.

But the damage has been done and a rift has been created.

And that bets the question, why did Bubka send a letter to Patafa, with Petrov’s statement, in the first place if the coach himself has said he got paid? What is he now? The ombudsman for Philippine athletics? Bubka was one of the first foreign Olympians I followed as he was part of the 12 great Olympians book, the very first book I bought as a sixth-grader back in the 90s.

It’s kind of strange to read his role in all of this.

Of course, Patafa will bear the brunt of the public outrage. How could they do this to a beloved Olympian? But, on the other side of the coin, how could they not do this? And by this I mean start an investigation after receiving the sworn statements from Bubka and Petrov.

“Wala ba kayong group chat?” We all commented that more than once, whenever we hear of one government agency contradicting another during the pandemic.

Well, this one applies to the Patafa vs. Obiena mess.

Patafa: “EJ we got sworn statements, you didn’t pay your coach.”

EJ: “That’s baloney.”

Petrov: “I got paid.”

End of story, right?

No. And here we are.

The Philippine Sports Commission, strangely, is taking a hands-off approach. Why do I think it strange? Well, it is their money that the Patafa asked Obiena to return. Back in 2019, when I first wrote about Obiena, Ramon Fernandez of the PSC said they’ve been funding Obienia’s training, including his coach’s fee.

Will Fernandez end his PSC stint the way he started it? Work on a messy conflict between Patafa and an Olympian? In 2016 it was Mary Joy Tabal, five years later it’s Obiena.

I am willing to make peace on this case but I must have my good name cleared. I do not hold out much hope. It is clear I am not wanted by my federation in any shape or form

EJ Obiena

Nobody will come out a winner in this rift. Not Obiena, whose character has been sullied; not the Patafa, whose intentions have been questioned; and not even the PSC, has budget for 2022 has been recalled.

So much has been said since the issue broke but I’m hoping both parties take a step back and work on a win-win situation. Because it seems to me, someone’s playing the Patafa and Obiena.

Mike T. Limpag
Mike T. Limpag

Mike T. Limpag has covered the Cebu sports scene for over 20 years, starting as an 18-year-old cub reporter for the Freeman in 1997 before moving to SunStar Cebu in 2001.

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