EJ Obiena denies not paying Ukrainian coach, threatens to 'immediately' retire

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 21) – Filipino pole vault sensation EJ Obiena threatened to consider "immediate" retirement from the sport, amid an investigation being conducted against him by the national athletics federation.

Obiena made the remark as he demanded the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) to withdraw the probe against him and to issue a full public apology over the body's "baseless" claims.

"If this does not happen, I will consider my other options, being an immediate retirement from the sport that I love in the Philippines, and probably return to school," said Obiena, who admitted that he’s not in good standing with PATAFA officials even prior to the investigation.

In a virtual press conference on Sunday, Obiena denied that he failed to pay over ₱4.8 million in coaching fees to his Ukrainian mentor Vitaly Petrov.

PATAFA had demanded that Obiena return the amount, accusing him of stealing the money and falsifying liquidations he submitted to the national athletics federation.

"My own federation comes out of me with pure aggression, no benefit of any doubt, and with intent to destroy my reputation," said Obiena, who confirmed he received the letter from PATAFA's investigating committee.

The Tokyo Olympian maintained that he holds proof that he had paid Petrov, adding that he has hired a third party investigator to audit all the liquidations he had declared to PATAFA.

Petrov, who was also present at the press conference, lamented the probe launched against Obiena and confirmed that he was paid by the Filipino pole vaulter.

"I do not understand what this federation is doing and its work that comes out of destroying (careers)," said Petrov, a seasoned pole vault coach who has trained many Olympian pole vaulters.

The 26-year-old athlete said the investigation has affected his mental preparations for future tournaments, with a possible stint in the 2024 Paris Olympics now in peril due to PATAFA's funding suspension.

"I don't want to waste anybody's time if I cannot jump and I'm not performing to the point that I cannot represent the Philippines fairly," said Obiena, whose training camp with Petrov is based in Italy.

Obiena said he has elevated the issue to the Philippine Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee, and the international athletics governing body World Athletics.

In a statement issued on Monday, PATAFA President Philip Ella Juico rejected Obiena's claims he's a victim of character assassination, as the athletics head emphasized that the investigation was meant to be kept away from the public.

Juico insisted that PATAFA received a letter signed by Petrov, which said the foreign coach failed to receive his coaching fees from Obiena. He added the letter was backed up by an affidavit signed by World Athletics senior vice president Sergey Bubka, a pole vault legend.

"The discrepancy in Obiena's reports, and the documents from Petrov and Bubka inquiring about the coach's salary have prompted the PATAFA investigation," said Juico.

The country's athletics chief also said that Petrov's salary from May 2018 to August 2021 were only settled by Obiena recently, contrary to what the pole vaulter reported to the federation that he had paid his coach faithfully during the said months.

"These payments, late as they were as noted by the Board, were made in tranches through banks based in Dubai, Germany, and Manila," Juico added.

Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Bambol Tolentino told CNN Philippines that Obiena's complaint has been lodged before the POC Athletes' Commission and will be investigated by the body's ethics committee as soon as they receive the papers.

Obiena is the country's sole pole vault representative to the Tokyo Olympics where he finished in 11th place. Since then, he has won several medals in post-Olympic tournaments, including one last Sept. 12 where he established a new Asian pole vault record.