Philippine sports

Amid PATAFA rift, EJ Obiena receives offers from ‘multiple’ countries

Amid PATAFA rift, EJ Obiena receives offers from ‘multiple’ countries

AT A CROSSROADS. EJ Obiena mulls retirement from pole vaulting following his funding row against the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association.

Johanna Geron/Reuters

'Long before this happened, there was already a line of people at his door to offer him a passport,' says Jim Lafferty, who mentors EJ Obiena

Other countries have lined up at the door of Filipino pole vault star EJ Obiena just in case he decides not to represent the Philippines anymore.

This is according to businessman and athletics coach Jim Lafferty as the embattled Obiena mulls retirement after the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) accused him of embezzling funds.

Lafferty, who mentors Obiena, said “multiple” countries have taken notice of the 26-year-old following his rise in the world rankings.

The current Asian record holder achieved a career-high No. 5 ranking in September before he slipped to No. 6.

“Long before this happened, there was already a line of people at his door to offer him a passport,” Lafferty told One News’ The Big Story in an interview with Gretchen Ho.

“He is the hottest thing in track and field because he’s gone from No. 30 to No. 10 to No. 8 to No. 5,” Lafferty added.

Obiena threatened to hang up his spurs after PATAFA ordered him to return 85,000 euros (P4.8 million) in funds, claiming he did not pay his Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov for the last three years.

Petrov testified that Obiena paid him his salary.

When the PATAFA clarified that Obiena indeed paid Petrov but with liquidation discrepancies, the Olympian admitted to late payments, which he said is “not a crime.”

“It’s no secret in today’s world that a number of countries are looking at this situation and laughing uncontrollably how the Philippines is driving away a world-class athlete that they can offer a passport to,” Lafferty said.

In the Tokyo Olympics, Obiena was the only Asian to reach the final round, where he finished 11th. He quickly redeemed himself by winning silver in the Paris Diamond League in August.

Two weeks later, Obiena broke the Asian record when he bagged gold in the Golden Roof Challenge in Austria.

“Everyone’s scared of him. A Brazilian coach told me a couple of years ago, the No. 1 guy out there is Obiena. He’s going to win gold in big competitions. You don’t think other countries don’t want that?” Lafferty said.

Lafferty thinks Obiena will never don the national colors again “if something does not happen soon.”

“He doesn’t want to leave the Philippines. He doesn’t want to do this. He wants to stay and vault. But how do you vault when your own federation is trying to kill you?” –