EJ Obiena says he felt Patafa chief Juico was trying to sabotage his Olympic bid
MANILA, Philippines — Star pole vaulter EJ Obiena felt that the issues raised by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) head against him stemmed from animosity tracing back to 2017, down to what he felt were attempts to sabotage his Olympic bid in 2021.
During the hearing conducted by the House committee on youth and sports development on Tuesday about the issues surrounding Obiena and Patafa, particularly Patafa president Philip Juico, the athlete claimed that there were events before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics held last July to August 2021 that made him feel like Juico was hampering his bid.
“I could not help but get that impression that he was deliberately trying to sabotage the country’s chances at an Olympic medal because of an animosity towards me,” Obiena told lawmakers in the online hearing.
The world No. 6 Obiena, who finished 11th in Tokyo, claimed there was one instance where Patafa allegedly did not consult him in picking who would compose his team, while the agency also purchased his pole vaulting equipment wrongly, resulting in the items being broken and useless just weeks before his flight to Tokyo, Japan.
“We also had an issue leading to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics when I wasn’t consulted with the selection of my support team, I had to stand my ground and fight for each and every member of my team just to make sure that the essential people that I would need in Tokyo would be there before the deadline of the submission,” he said.
“We also had bureaucratic problems associated to the purchase of my equipment, my vaulting poles that I need to use. This resulted in my equipment arriving broken and useless, just a week before my flight going to Tokyo. This could have been easily avoided as I have informed Mr. Juico and Patafa several months, more than five months before (the) Olympics that I need this equipment,” he added.
But aside these, Obiena also claimed that he felt Juico was hampering his development and progress, as the Patafa executive allegedly allowed two offers — one from a well-known sports apparel company — which would have provided him necessary funding to slip by.
The other offer that Obiena got was him being picked by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the Olympic Solidarity scholarships, which he claims was lost because Juico did not provide him the needed documents and recommended another athlete instead.
But the IOC program, the Olympian said, was specific to a certain sport.
“After the Olympics, I was selected by the [IOC] as a recipient of the Olympic Solidarity Program, which granted me financial support to train for the 2024 Paris Olympic which would have funded me without causing the Philippines a single centavo. But Mr. Juico himself did not give me the required NSA endorsement for my paper work, instead, he nominated another athlete,” Obiena said.
“The sad part of the whole thing is that the program is athlete-specific, when Mr. Juico did not endorse me, the Federation, the sport of athletics lost that lone spot that the IOC gave,” he added.
But Juico, who was also during the hearing, said that he was never approached by Obiena and his mother about the deal with the sports apparel company, as they talked to Patafa’s marketing and communications director.
“I did not even talk to Mr. Obiena about that, he cannot even produce any document that says I should do this, I should do that,” Juico said.
Regarding one of the team’s members being cut from Obiena’s delegation, Juico explained that he wanted to know the members of the team because as a manager, he wants a clear view of what is happening.
“‘The sports doctor [he was talking about], sports psychologist, I wanted to meet her there because it is the duty of the sports psychologist or any other member of an athlete’s group to be in close harmony with the administration, with the NSA, and every other member of the team,” Juico said.
‘Stick to the issue’
“I just wanted to have a 360 degree view — that is a management style or management method, you want to know what’s going on with your athlete, after all, we are the ones paying the psychologist, it is our right to find out, to monitor,” he added.
Juico made no mention about Obiena’s equipment arriving broken, or about the IOC selection that slipped past from the athlete.
Instead, he urged Obiena’s camp to stick to the issue, and just answer the accusations that he failed to pay his coach, Vitaly Petrov.
“Di ko alam kung ano ang harassment, ‘pag ba nagtatanong ka harassment na? (I don’t know why it’s being called harassment. Is merely asking a question considered harassment?)You know, that’s just part of it, after all, I have to report to PSC how the money is being used,” Juico said.
“Let’s just go back to the original (issue), paliwanag niyo na lang ‘yong mga dokumento saka ‘yong mga fund (just explain the documents and the funding), but we are open to mediation,” he added.
Patafa is in hot water for allegedly harassing Obiena, after it ordered the athlete to return 85,000 euros (over P4.8 million pesos) in financial assistance after he allegedly failed to pay Vitaly.
Obiena denied the claims, and Petrov eventually clarified his statement that he was being paid properly by the athlete, and that he only wanted the process to be made faster as Obiena was making advances on behalf of the government.