EJ Obiena blasts PATAFA for not paying coach directly, admits late payments

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 23) – Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena admitted he made late payments to his coach Vitaly Petrov but only due to his commitments as an athlete.

"Have I ever paid Vitally Petrov late? Yes, I have. I just sometimes cannot manage the workload and the training and get everything done to PATAFA's satisfaction," Obiena said in his latest statement released on Tuesday.

Obiena blasted anew the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) for burdening him with the task of directly paying the coaching fees of the renowned Ukrainian pole vault mentor, despite being alone in Italy and spending many hours in training.

"I have repeatedly asked PATAFA to pay my coaches directly and to stop requiring me to disperse all funds. First the extra work I need to do other than competing for my country, and not to mention the fees I need to shoulder for these transfers. Somehow it was refused," lamented Obiena.

The 25-year-old Filipino pole vault star made the remark after PATAFA President Philip Ella Juico said on Monday 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 period.

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

Obiena acknowledged that he was "sometimes late" in organizing and passing the related paperwork, but he believes the late salary payments he made to Petrov do not constitute a criminal act.

"When I am changing countries every 36 hours, I am sorry I can't stop everything and reconcile all my finances. Do you want medals or do you want accountant-athletes? Make a choice," said Obiena.

Obiena revealed that he sought PATAFA's help in his Tokyo Olympics stint, but he said it was a "mess" and instead called the Philippine Embassy in Italy to transport his poles to Japan.

"They could help me by simply paying people directly. But they refuse this very simple solution for some reason and now they accuse me of wrongdoing when I never wanted the job of paymaster to begin with!" Obiena’s statement read.

Obiena maintained that he did not steal any funds intended for Petrov, adding that he even paid from his own pocket the transfer fees for the coach's salary.

He also challenged PATAFA to release the supposed signed affidavit of Petrov, which allegedly stated that the Ukrainian coach was not paid his salary.

"Why would you destroy one of your top athletes? It makes no sense. Is PATAFA's mission to protect and serve its athletes, or to serve those in charge?" said Obiena, who reiterated his threat to break away from the national athletics federation and pursue legal actions against the body.

PATAFA on Tuesday said it has created an "independent" administrative committee to investigate the alleged misdeclarations committed by Obiena.

The national athletics federation also maintained it holds the signed affidavit of World Athletics senior vice president Sergey Bubka and signed statements of Petrov, which both certified that Obiena failed to pay the coaching fees.

"The Committee is presently conducting a thorough and in-depth investigation covering the issues at hand and will release as soon as practicable its findings and recommendations," PATAFA said in a statement.

Philippine Olympic Committee President and Cavite Rep. Bambol Tolentino lamented the ongoing rift between Obiena and PATAFA, adding the country will lose a medal source in international competitions if the pole vaulter decides to "retire" from the sport.

"I am very disappointed. They could have handled the situation internally absent of any misfires from both parties. A bountiful career is now in peril," said Tolentino.

The Senate adopted a motion on Monday to reconsider the 2022 budget of the Philippine Sports Commission due to the Obiena-PATAFA conflict. 

Obiena is the country's 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 on Sept. 12 where he established a new Asian pole vault record.