A SEA Games berth for Obiena could end athletics row once and for all | Inquirer Sports

A SEA Games berth for Obiena could end athletics row once and for all

By: - Sports Editor / @ftjochoaINQ
/ 09:03 PM February 25, 2022
Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena during the Orlen Copernicus Cup.

Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena during the Orlen Copernicus Cup. -ORLEN COPERNICUS CUP PHOTO

The muted controversy was always a fragile quiet at best.

With the Southeast Asian Games approaching, there was no way to avoid talk of the rift between the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) and its prized athlete, pole vaulter EJ Obiena. After agreeing to enter into mediation, nothing was heard of from both parties.

ADVERTISEMENT

Now, they’re back in the limelight again.

The Patafa submitted an initial master list of the federation’s SEA Games pool of athletes, with Obiena’s name a glaring non-inclusion. “EJ Obiena is not in the national training pool list, so we have to discuss that amongst ourselves in the Patafa board,’’ Patafa president Philip Ella Juico told the Philippine Sportswriters Association forum.

FEATURED STORIES

As if on cue, in chilly Poland, where temperatures fell to as low as 6 degrees celsius, Obiena won a second gold medal in the European indoor pole vault circuit.

Pressed for comment on the latest triumph by the Tokyo Olympian, Juico sent the Inquirer a short message: “Congratulations to him and the other participants.” For a lot of readers, the remark was even frostier.

There were those who read sarcasm in it, a not-so-veiled attempt to draw attention to the field Obiena competed against in his twin triumphs—no Duplantises or Lightfoot’s there. It may have sounded that Juico was downplaying Obiena’s feat. After all, he is still considered a politician, having helmed the Philippine Sports Commission and served as Agrarian Reform secretary. As such, what he leaves out is as damning as what he speaks.

“Bitter much?” a reader commented on social media.

It speaks to how badly Juico has lost the battle in the public court and reinforces the idea that in every skirmish between an athlete and an official, sympathy always falls on the athlete.

For so long, athletics has been a sport constantly chasing the ghosts of a program in the 80s that, when viewed at present through the lens of an Olympic breakthrough or a huge golf major, may now seem more misty-eyed nostalgia than actual sporting yardstick.

But no sports official wakes up one morning and decides “today’s the day I will ruin an athlete’s life.” The most obvious sin of sports officials is their penchant of grabbing tight to the coattails of successful athletes hoping to grease themselves with residue glory.

That is perhaps the reason why the Philippine Sports Commission and the Commission on Audit are scrutinizing Obiena’s liquidation reports, because the Patafa must have reasonable grounds—and evidence—to go after Obiena the way it did.

ADVERTISEMENT

Until the mediation takes place, everything will remain speculation.

What remains a fact is that EJ Obiena is a sure gold winner in the SEA Games. His 5.45-meter leap to gold in 2019 is still the biennial meet’s standing record. And Obiena cleared 5.81m in winning those two gold medals in Poland. Obiena also is the Asian record holder at 5.93m, a mark that hasn’t been challenged in the continent, much less in the Southeast Asian region.

In light of a very triumphant stretch for Philippine sports last year, it is easy to make light Obiena’s place in history.

For so long, athletics has been a sport constantly chasing the ghosts of a program in the 80s that, when viewed at present through the lens of an Olympic breakthrough or a huge golf major, may now seem more misty-eyed nostalgia than actual sporting yardstick.

The mother of pole vaulter EJ Obiena had to initially shoulder P600,000 for her son’s training allowance after knowing his living conditions.

The Philippines’ Ernest John Obiena competes during the men’s pole vault event of the ISTAF indoor athletics meeting in Berlin on February 4, 2022. (FILE photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

Perhaps the biggest name in that program, Project: Gintong Alay, was Lydia de Vega-Mercado, who was once dubbed Asia’s fastest woman. Well, Obiena is now Asia’s highest vaulter and he has reached an Olympic finals while rising to No. 5 in the world.

He is the ghost future standouts of the sport will chase.

His twin triumphs in Poland have prompted Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino to ask: “How many more gold medals should EJ win for him to be reinstated in the national pool?”

If Juico is to be believed, those two golds are more than enough. But here’s the catch: “… [Obiena] needs to do is indicate his willingness to join [the national team] and then submit to us his records of his competition performances,” Juico told the Inquirer.

Will Obiena do so?

Jim Lafferty, the businessman who has been identified as one of Obiena’s chief backers, did not give specifics on what the plans of the pole vault star are.

“We are optimists with a philosophical twinge. We believe in the best in people and we believe this situation shall right itself,” Lafferty wrote the Inquirer in an email.

He could be referring to the SEA Games. He could also mean the current controversy that is still looking for a resolution.

Perhaps they are intertwined?

If, indeed, Obiena’s path to repeating as SEA Games pole vault king has to run through Patafa, then it should mean a lot to the controversy’s resolution if the Patafa lists him in its national roster.

Perhaps in leaving the door open for Obiena to make the SEA Games team, Juico also cracked open a window for the issue to finally be settled.

(Francis T. J. Ochoa is the sports editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: EJ Obiena, Patafa, pole vault, SEA Games
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.

Subscribe to our sports news

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.



© Copyright 1997-2022 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.