POC stresses Obiena credentials for SEAG inclusion
The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) is urging the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) to reconsider its decision to leave out pole vaulter EJ Obiena from its initial roster of national athletes for the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG), even as a patron closely associated with the world No. 5 believes the situation will eventually “right itself.”
“How many more gold medals should EJ win for him to be reinstated in the national pool?’’ said POC president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino. “We cannot deprive our country of a national athletic treasure like EJ.’’
Obiena recently ruled the 2022 Orlen Copernicus Cup in Poland for his second gold medal in the ongoing European indoor pole vaulting circuit, and his leap of 5.81 meters in that event is already way better than the regional record of 5.45 m, which Obiena set in 2019 when he won the gold medal here.
The SEA Games will be held in May in Hanoi, Vietnam.
A day after Patafa president Philip Ella Juico cracked open a window for Obiena by saying that all foreign-based athletes have to do to make the SEA Games team is signify their intention to join the national squad and submit a record of their performance to the federation, a member of Obiena’s inner circle said that they are optimistic things will turn out okay for the Asian record holder.
Mediation could fix this
“We are optimists with a philosophical twinge,” businessman Jim Lafferty, Obiena’s patron, told the Inquirer via email early Thursday morning. “We believe in the best in people and we believe this situation shall right itself.”
Obiena and the Patafa are slated to undergo mediation in the hopes of ironing out the wrinkles in their relationship, which was strained by accusations of fund misuse and fraudulent liquidation reports.
Both parties have said they have turned their back on the controversy for now to pursue other endeavors.
For the Patafa, Juico said late Wednesday that the federation was “moving on” and staying focused “on taking care of the other athletes in our national pool.”
Lafferty said Obiena likewise has shrugged off distractions and continues to improve in Europe.
“We are very proud of EJ,” Lafferty said. “A true champion rises above adversity and this is exactly what EJ is doing. He is able to block out the distractions and raise his performance.”
The Patafa did not include Obiena in a lineup forwarded to the Philippine Sports Commission because of the ongoing controversy. The federation was also busy with its series of trials for the national pool, which kicked off on Wednesday.
The POC, on the other hand, continues to stand by Obiena. It had previously branded Juico persona non grata and vowed to use all means at its disposal to suit Obiena up in the national colors for international competition.
Door still ajar
While Juico said the board still needs to discuss Obiena’s situation, he did not shut the door on Obiena defending his SEA Games championship.
“It’s something that applies to all athletes based abroad. If they want to join the national team, they just need to inform us of their intention and then submit proof of their performance where they hit the required standards,” Juico told the Inquirer on Wednesday. “There’s no need for them to have to fly here and join the trials because if they do that, then they face issues like quarantines and other possible delays.”
The Patafa normally endorses its athletes to the POC to be included in the Philippine delegation looking to defend its overall title in Vietnam in the meet penciled from May 12 to May 25.
Tolentino had said in several reports a couple of months before that the POC will have Obiena carrying the country’s colors in regional meets, only for the ruling World Athletics to throw its support behind Patafa.
Obiena’s Asian record of 5.93 m easily surpasses the Asian Games (Asiad) standard of Japan’s Seito Yamamoto (5.70m) set during the 2018 Asiad in Jakarta.
The Patafa also alleged that Obiena falsified his liquidation documents, an accusation that is now being scrutinized by the Commission on Audit.