(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s Nov. 29 edition)
As if the EJ Obiena vs. Patafa issue isn’t muddy enough, here comes Jim Lafferty, who said countries are knocking on the embattled Olympian’s door with passports to entice the Filipino pole vaulter to change allegiances.
Naturally, Pinoy sports fans, wary of another Wesley So situation, are further putting the pressure on Patafa to resolve the issue post-haste, lest we lose this promising Olympian.
As for me? I take what Lafftery is saying with a grain of salt. The first time I heard of EJ Obiena’s Olympic promise was in an article written by Lafferty, where he painted EJ as a pauper-athlete struggling to travel to international meets because of lack of support from the Philippines. He also highlighted that it was only thanks to the generosity of Philip Ella Juico, the Patafa president, that Obiena got to compete. Then he summed it all up by saying that for a measly budget of 3,833 Euros a month–or the equivalent of P223,189–we could win our gold medal. (He didn’t mention that this amazing athlete was his advisee.)
Of course I bought his story, wrote about it, then contacted the Philippine Sports Commission if they ever thought of helping this gifted athlete with his training. It turns out they were already were, to the tune of P3.1 million for 2019, the year that Lafferty wrote his article painting Obiena as a pauper. That P3.1 million is almost 50 percent more than what Lafferty said Obiena needed, P223,189 a month.
That amount–which is separate from the P15 million Patafa got from the PSC for 2019–covers the fee for the coach and of course it’s what got us here.
When this issue broke, I contacted my friend Charles Maxey, the former sports editor of SunStar Davao who has been with the PSC since Digong took over, confirmed that it is indeed the PSC money that Patafa is asking Obiena to return in that controversial memo because they are required to liquidate it.
I am hopeful that Obiena, Juico and Patafa will eventually patch things and that the issue will lead to reforms as what Obiena asked, like the PSC or Patafa paying the coach themselves directly.
But what Lafferty said sure didn’t help. Sure, athletes can swap nationalities but based on IAAF rules, they need to wait three years since they last competed for their former country before they can compete for their new one. That wait can be shortened to one year if the transition is smooth and both old and new federations can agree.
EJ somehow travels to meets, borrowing money from family, and donations out of pockets of gems like Philip Ella Juico…who pays from his own money in the absence of formal support.Lafferty in his 2019 article on EJ Obiena.
The transition won’t certainly be smooth now if it happens so the best option I think is for both Patafa and Obiena to settle their differences away from social media. Someone has to swallow the bitter pill to and clear Obiena of the charge he was so publicly accused.
The two parties need to meet face-to-face and I’m sure, given their close history together with EJ being a second-generation athlete, they’d come out shaking hands.