I have long been involved with Philippine sports, with over four decades of writing experience about personalities and situations, but I have to admit, the current EJ Obiena vs PATAFA case is shocking.
For the unfamiliar, EJ is the country’s top pole vaulter. He crashed out of the medal standings in the Tokyo Olympics, but is currently ranked no. 3 based on last year’s World Athletics Championships.
PATAFA is the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association, headed by its president Philip Ella Juico, presently embroiled in a battle not only with EJ, but with the Philippine Olympic Committee as well, having declared him as a persona non grata, which means “walang utang na loob” in Filipino, if am not mistaken.
And the POC even went further by announcing its non recognition of Juico as the head of the track and field National Sports Association.
PATAFA has retaliated by moving against EJ and supposedly will drop him from the national team, aside from announcing its own persona non grata onEJ’s benefactor and long-time sports patron Jim Rafferty.
Bone of contention by PATAFA against EJ is that the athlete is guilty of estafa in the amount of 6000 euros, allegedly not paid to EJ’s coach.
Further developments did show that payments to said coach were delayed, but eventually settled.
And that should have been the end of the brouhaha. But unfortunately, the plot has even thickened further with subsequent developments on both sides.
People now await for the position that the Philippine Sports Commission, headed by Chairman Butch Ramirez, will take with the contrasting sides of the POC and PATAFA with regard to EJ.
PSC, the country’s funding agency for sports and the national athletes, is caught in between the two camps, each one with valid points for their respective arguments. Fact is, the PSC has offered to mediate the issue between the two parties. The PATAFA agreed, but Obiena refused.
We also do not know how the international federation for track and field will react to the current situation. Will it interfere or treat the case as an internal matter, which may also be the same position that the International Olympic Committee will take?
Sports fans are overwhelmingly in favor of embattled athletes even in the past, with online comments from netizens critical of Juico and the PATAFA.
In the past, we have seen athletes battling it out with their respective NSAs, as far back as Lydia de Vega against Mike Keon, or was it Tatang de la Vega vs. Mike?
The biggest case, however, was in chess with Wesley So, hurt by his NSA’s non-recognition of his gold medal finish in the World Universiade.
He then decided to move to the United States and started playing under the American flag in international competitions.
This is the same situation we might eventually see in the case of EJ as other countries, I believe, will be more than willing to adopt an athlete of his caliber, with Philippine sports losing in the end.
Now you may ask, what is my personal take on the matter?
Even in the past, my tendency is to go with the athlete.
In this EJ vs PATAFA case, it is the same. I certainly do not believe that an NSA should end up taking this kind of action against an athlete, particularly world-class athletes that we should be developing and not turning away.
EJ may have committed some administrative lapses in managing his training funds resulting to delays in payments, but then, an athlete’s job is not to manage funds, but to focus solely on his training to get better and better.
The PATAFA I believe has over reacted to the circumstances of the situation and went overboard instead of trying to keep resolve things together and work internally.
Now, in the event we do end up losing EJ, no matter how PATAFA rationalizes it, sports fans will lay the blame on them. Period.