MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino reiterated his support for embattled star pole vaulter EJ Obiena, and decried his controversial expulsion from the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) on Tuesday, January 4.
“We in the POC will make sure EJ will be in Hanoi [SEA Games] and Huangzhou [Asian Games], and in all other major world competitions. We’ll fight for EJ,” Tolentino said in a statement. “I expected EJ [would] be dropped from the national team by his NSA as a vengeful act.”
“The action of Mr. [Philip] Juico in removing EJ Obiena from the national pool is an expected result of his exposé. A vengeful act that shuts down the chances of the Philippines from its Olympic dream,” he continued.
Obiena, currently the world’s sixth-ranked pole vaulter and Asian record holder, was recommended to be expelled, and charged with estafa after his NSA insisted their ace athlete falsified liquidation documents, and made late payments to coach Vitaly Petrov.
“The board has accepted all the recommendations of the Administrative Committee that includes removing the 26-year-old young man, who knew the consequences of what he was doing as he repeatedly produced those curious documents,” said Juico in a press conference on Tuesday morning.
Obiena and his coach repeatedly denied PATAFA’s allegations since late November 2021. (READ: ‘I was tricked’: Obiena coach says no time for ‘witch hunt’)
The POC, which already declared Juico persona non grata, declared in a statement that it will “support athletes in achieving their [Olympic] dreams,” and has placed the ball on the court of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) to take further action.
“Will the PSC allow EJ to be stricken off from the national team? Will the government allow a world-class athlete to be out of the national team?” asked Tolentino.
“Will the PSC turn its back on this mandate? I don’t think so,” he continued. “This is precisely why the PSC is created, to act as the final caretaker of athletes when an oppressive NSA (national sports association) is apparently shutting its doors to world-class athletes.”
Tolentino also pointed out that not all hope is lost regarding Obiena’s competition status for the Philippines.
“Of course, the NSA has the right to recommend or not, endorse or not, its athletes for international competitions, but there’s a provision in the IOC (International Olympic Committee) Charter allowing NOCs (National Olympic Committees) to endorse athletes,” he said.
“In the absence of an endorsement from a national federation, the organizer or host owns a prerogative to allow embattled athletes – the IOC allows refugee athletes to compete in major international competitions,” he continued.
Both the PSC and Obiena have not yet released their own statements regarding their next moves in the wake of these developments. – Rappler.com