Patafa’s mediation-first stand leaves Obiena without ‘sure’ SEA Games gold and a shot at history; negotiations still far from resolution, sources say
The national athletics federation’s firm stand on responding to Ernest John Obiena’s requests for endorsement to international competitions only after a successful mediation of its rift with the decorated athlete will cost the country a “sure gold” in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
And with mediation still in limbo, so is Obiena’s hopes of carving his niche in sporting history.
The Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) left Obiena off its Southeast Asian Games roster for the 2022 meet in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Tuesday and withheld endorsement of the Tokyo Olympian’s participation in the 2022 IAAF World Indoor Championship, which takes place from March 18 to March 20 in Serbia.
Obiena’s participation in the Belgrade meet would have made him the first full-blooded Filipino to campaign in the global event. He qualified for the world meet after two gold medals in the European indoor circuit.
The world’s No. 5 pole vaulter also cleared a season-best 5.91 meters for a silver medal, which reset his own indoor national record, at the Perche Elite Tour in Rouen, France, on Sunday.
It was 0.01 m short of finally shattering the 24-year-old existing Asian indoor record in men’s pole vault owned by Kazakhstan’s Igor Potapovich, who jumped 5.92 m in a meet held in Stockholm, Sweden, early 1998.
“If @pet_rouen (Perche Elite Tour de Rouen) is my last indoor competition of the year, I’m grateful. I never thought this season would even be possible, more so a new personal best and a national record,’’ posted Obiena on his Facebook account.
Patafa training director Renato Unso had earlier informed Obiena of the Patafa board’s stand in a letter recently, which stated: “By authority of the Patafa Board of Trustees, please be informed that the Patafa Board of Trustees will not act on your letter … pending completion of the mediation process being conducted by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).”
The Patafa board, however, said it “recognizes the urgency” of Obiena’s request and will move to “fully cooperate with the PSC … with the intent of expediting the process” of mediation.
And with still no resolution to the conflict, Obiena missed the Monday cutoff for the Belgrade event.
The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) continues ruing the cost of the controversy, especially in the country’s gold count in international meets, particularly the SEA Games, which it said Obiena could win blindfolded.
“I can only shake my head, this is horrible,’’ said POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol’’ Tolentino.
“Barring serious injury, EJ will win the gold medal even blindfolded in Hanoi,” Tolentino added. “He’s not only the best in the SEA Games, but in the whole of Asia—not to forget that he’s No. 5 in the world.”
Sources told the Inquirer that the mediation process, spearheaded by the PSC is already a couple of meetings into negotiations, but added that both parties are still far apart from a resolution.
At the center of the controversy is Patafa’s allegation that Obiena misused funds meant for the payment of his coach, pole vault star maker Vitaly Petrov Of Ukraine, and then covered up the wrongdoing by allegedly filing fraudulent liquidation reports.
Obiena has denied the accusations, admitting only that he paid Petrov late. Obiena’s liquidation reports are now with the Commission on Audit.
Aside from the PSC mediation, the two parties have sought external help to end the rift.
A source had earlier revealed that Obiena—after declaring he was all in with the PSC mediation—had sought the help of World Athletics, approaching the international federation’s chief executive officer, Jon Ridgeon, in Uppsala, Sweden, to mediate his case.
Patafa president Philip Ella Juico, meanwhile, has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the persona non grata label slapped on him by the POC.
The Inquirer has obtained a copy of Juico’s appeal to the CAS.
The CAS appeal looks to dismiss Obiena’s complaint with the POC on Juico’s alleged harassment of the athlete and declare all decisions reached by the POC “null and void for having been issued without jurisdiction.”
Obiena also needs the blessing of the Patafa to participate in the Asian Games in China, and the world athletics championships in Oregon, later this year. INQ
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