Nothing out of order so far with EJ Obiena papers, source says
It looks like things are slowly turning the way EJ Obiena wants them.
Now it’s just a matter of remapping his return to competition—a development stalled both by a hampered return to fitness and political instability—for Obiena to shift his focus on where it should be: on pole vault.
And, if Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chair Butch Ramirez has his way, a final patching up with his national federation.
A source told the Inquirer that an initial survey of his liquidation papers by state auditors have revealed nothing out of order so far, lending credence to Obiena’s claim that he had done nothing wrong when he fell behind in payments to his Ukrainian coach, Vitaly Petrov.
The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the final report hasn’t been done yet, said the Commission on Audit (COA) had scrutinized Obiena’s financial reports and have found nothing irregular yet so far.
The COA and the PSC are still combing through the financial documents at press time.
If both government agencies clear Obiena, then the Tokyo Olympian can finally close this chapter of his career and focus on competing. But first, he’ll have to work himself into a more consistent form and rearrange his calendar after his initial calendar was shook up for various reasons.
“His schedule is being reworked as Asian Indoors have been suspended due to instability of security in Almaty, Kazakhstan, due to the rioting and public disturbances widely covered in the press,” his adviser, Jim Lafferty, told the Inquirer via email on Thursday. “That was obviously a huge focus competition for EJ. We are working a revised schedule around the world indoor championships which are in March.”
Kazakhstan has been mired in political strife, with a series of big protests and rioting that began last Jan. 2, after the government’s decision to lift a price cap fueled a steep increase in gas prices.
Obiena has pulled out of what was supposed to be his first tournament this year, slated in Germany, due to what Lafferty described as “inconsistent form” caused by a long training break.
Obiena recently underwent follow-up surgery on his knee.
“The knee feels fine. That’s not the issue. He simply lost too many training days and his timing is off,” said Lafferty. “This leads to inconsistency. Sometimes he is ‘on’ and sometimes ‘off.’”
“Vitaly feels he has another week before he nails his timing for a full 18-step approach. So his first meet is now Berlin next weekend [on Feb. 4 and 5],” Lafferty added.
If, indeed, Obiena ends up getting cleared by auditors, that would provide a final resolution to a controversy that has marred the country’s sporting scene.
Still, Ramirez said he would love to see Obiena and Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) president Philip Ella Juico end their rift and return to working together.
“Obiena should refrain from listening to people around him while Juico should act like a father to EJ. There’s no need for mediation, what they need is the humility to talk things over and settle the issue between them,’’ said Ramirez.
“I’m talking like a brother to Juico and like a father to EJ. Just settle it amicably,’’ he added during the PSC’s People Sports Conversations online forum on Thursday.
Ramirez had initiated a mediation process for the parties involved, but Obiena eventually begged off, citing “bad faith” on Patafa’s part.
Obiena maintained that he would want a more public forum for a resolution.
“Mediation is something we stand for because it is the best option that we have. Contrary to what has been claimed, mediation does not silence the truth. In fact, it is aimed at ferreting out the truth since it offers a safe, neutral ground of discussion for both parties to clarify issues without the noise of the outside world,’’ said Ramirez.
Obiena, at present ranked No. 5 in the world and holds the men’s Asian pole vault record, has submitted his liquidation documents last week to the PSC accounting office, including the details of the over P4.8 million in salaries that he released to his Ukrainian coach Petrov.
Obiena scored a key victory on Wednesday when the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) general assembly, acting on the athlete’s complaint, ratified a recommendation of its ethics’ panel to declare Juico persona non grata.
POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol’’ Tolentino said should Obiena and Juico mend fences, the POC could lift the ban on the athletics chief.
Tolentino added the local Olympic body would endorse Obiena to compete in the Southeast Asian Games and other international tournaments even without the backing of the Patafa.