MANILA, Philippines — Philippine pole vault star Ernest John Obiena on Sunday dismissed as a mere personal attack the monetary issues hurled against him after the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) ordered him to return €85,000 (over P4.8 million) in financial assistance.
And he’s gone on attack mode now.
One of the darlings of the small Philippine contingent that took part in the last Olympics in Tokyo, Obiena tried to clear his name in a Zoom press conference by showing a letter signed by Vitaly Petrov that the amount was received by his coach as payment for services rendered in his buildup and participation in the Games.
“All I can say — with documented evidence — that these rumors are 100 percent false and represent nothing more than character assassination,’’ said Obiena, who sat beside Petrov during the presser. “The entire incident has damaged my reputation and is now forever a part of my history.’’
Obiena has been hurt with what has transpired and is threatening to retire “from the sport that I love.”
He said that a reconciliation with Patafa and its president, Philip Ella Juico, is now “all up to them.”
In a letter to Obiena dated Nov. 15, the Patafa said “based on the written statements of Mr. Sergey Bubka and Mr. Vitaly Petrov, including the documents you have submitted to the Patafa, it appears that you falsified the liquidations submitted to the Patafa and failed to pay the coaching fees of Mr. Vitaly Petrov in the total amount of Eighty-Five Thousand Euros (€85,000).’’
Obiena said he’s currently in the process of filing complaints before the Philippine Olympic Committee, International Olympic Committee (IOC) and World Athletics.
“We are talking of slander and defamation of character. I have retained a legal counsel and I do intend to pursue this vigorously,’’ he said.
Quitting in his prime
The Patafa, the national sports association under which Obiena is affiliated, likewise claimed that the 26-year-old Tokyo Olympian “falsified the liquidations submitted’’ to the federation, documents provided to the Inquirer showed.
“The only resolution to this now is the full and public withdrawal of the investigation and a full public apology from the authorities involved in this. If this doesn’t happen, I will consider my other options such as retirement from the sport that I love,’’ said Obiena.
“I have prided myself in embracing the values of discipline, competitiveness, honor, transparency and respect. This doesn’t change even in times of crisis,’’ added the current Asian champion and record-holder.
Bubka, an Olympic gold medalist and six-time world champion in men’s pole vault, is the vice president of World Athletics, president of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine and member of the IOC.
“I welcome a full and open accounting. I have nothing to hide,’’ said Obiena, who hired international auditing firm Price Waterhouse Coopers to audit the entire portion paid to Obiena and Petrov since the beginning of 2018. “It will show that every single centavo has been accounted for.’’
Obiena said he received two communications from Patafa, one from the investigative committee of the federation while the other was a letter allegedly accusing him of stealing the money intended for Petrov.
“Nobody asked for clarity or supporting documentation. They just leveled the charges against me,’’ said Obiena, who was forced to stop his training after Patafa cut the financial support.
Petrov began his work as Obiena’s coach early in 2014 with the Patafa agreeing to pay him 2,000 euros every month and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) shouldering all the expenses incurred in the training camp.
Obiena, who placed 11th in the finals of the Tokyo Olympics, said he would provide more proof to Patafa and the PSC that he paid Petrov.
“The only thing we truly own in life is our reputation. I will fiercely defend mine from baseless allegations, which expose the political underbelly of some in the world of sports,’’ said Obiena. INQ
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