POC comes to Obiena’s rescue–with move that could set major precedent | Inquirer Sports
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POC comes to Obiena’s rescue–with move that could set major precedent

EJ Obiena during the Orlen Copernicus Cup. —ORLEN COPERNICUS CUP PHOTO

EJ Obiena during the Orlen Copernicus Cup.—ORLEN COPERNICUS CUP PHOTO

Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino knows exactly what is at stake.

A “sure gold,” was how he had been calling it.

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So Tolentino and the POC picked up the cudgels for beleaguered pole vaulter EJ Obiena and included his name in the Philippines’ contingent to the 2021 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“EJ’s name must be there,” Tolentino said in a statement released to media offices.

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The POC, in an effort to circumvent the requirement of an endorsement from an athletes’ national federation for qualification to major international competitions, has reached out to World Athletics, which running legend Sebastian Coe heads, regarding Obiena’s predicament.

Autonomy

The international body has already issued a statement backing the autonomy of the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) in backyard disputes, but how it will react to a specific request—in this case Obiena competing without the blessing of the Patafa—will widen the scope of the ongoing rift between the Tokyo Olympian and his mother federation.

Any decision by World Athletics will serve as a template for future disagreements among and within national sports associations—with a potential to redraw political lines within the POC.

The Patafa had left off Obiena, the Philippine and Asian record holder, from its SEA Games roster saying it would defer action on endorsement requests from the world No. 5 until after the resolution of their ongoing rift, which is undergoing mediation efforts led by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).

But with the deadline for SEA Games accreditation penciled on Saturday and with sources telling the Inquirer that the resolution to the current conflict is still a ways off, Tolentino decided to act and make good on his promise to use every avenue available for the POC to be able to field Obiena in the biennial meet.

Obiena and Patafa president Philip Ella Juico could not be reached for comment.

Feuding since November

Obiena holds the Asian and Philippine record at 5.93 meters, nearly half a meter better than the SEA Games standard of 5.45m that he himself set in winning the gold in the 2019 edition in New Clark City in Pampanga.

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Obiena and Juico had been feuding since November, when the Inquirer broke the story of the Patafa’s allegations that the athlete misused funds meant for his coach, Vitaly Petrov and accused Obiena of doctoring his liquidation papers to hide the alleged fraud.

The rift has already cost Obiena a trailblazing appearance in the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, and has put his stints in the SEA Games, the world championships in Oregon in July, and the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, in September in peril.

The POC is hoping it can at least salvage the SEA Games stint.

“It’s both frustrating and disappointing if we don’t see EJ setting a new SEA Games record in Hanoi,” said Tolentino. “Logic plays a major role here for the need to include him in the SEA Games list, this is sports and he’s a national sports pride.” —With a report from Bong Lozada

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TAGS: EJ Obiena, POC, pole vault
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