The Feud Between PATAFA and Olympian EJ Obiena: A Short History

A timeline for this complicated feud.

PHOTO Instagram / Ernest Obiena

In the latest development in the feud between the athletics federation and pole vault star EJ Obiena, an investigative committee formed by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association has recommended that Obiena be expelled from the national team.

In addition, it is also seeking criminal charges against Obiena for the alleged misappropriation of P360,000 allotted for the salary of Obiena's coach Vitaly Petrov, as its investigation reportedly uncovered more than P4 million of misappropriated funds by Obiena and his mother.


The committee will also seek to immediately terminate and file a complaint against Petrov, whose accusations of non-payment kickstarted the entire affair.

"Now he has to face the consequences," said athletics federation president Popoy Juico on the athlete.

Also read: EJ Obiena Still Chooses the Philippines In the Face of PATAFA Feud

How did it get to this? We track the timeline of the explosive storm between the sports federation and their star athlete.

November 21, 2021: Patafa seeks return of €85,000 as it alleges falsified documents from EJ Obiena

A report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer breaks the news of Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association's (PATAFA) claim that EJ Obiena had submitted falsified liquidation documents. 

In documents viewed by the Inquirer, the federation wrote Obiena to say, "[I]t appears that you falsified the liquidations submitted to the PATAFA and failed to pay the coaching fees of Mr. Vitaly Petrov in the total amount of Eighty-Five Thousand Euros (€85,000)."

watch now

Petrov is the legendary pole vault coach who has trained Obiena from 2018 all the way to his 2021 campaign, including his run in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

That same day, Obiena and Petrov conduct an online press conference from Europe, where they are training.

Petrov says that he has already been paid in full, showing a letter he had written to PATAFA president Popoy Juico.

Obiena vows that he would not take the accusations lying down, and has filed complaints with the Philippine Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee, and World Athletics, the international governing body for track and field. He also threatens to sue PATAFA for defamation.

The pole vaulter says that he has engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to do a full audit of his payment, as he also admits, "[S]ome of my liquidation paperwork were probably submitted late or in a sloppy fashion."

He also states that he is now mulling retirement in the wake of the accusations.


"I didn't really know anything about it until there was demand. You know, there was this investigative committee and there's this letter coming from my federation directed to me, that I have 14 hours to respond and explain everything. I didn't know none of this," says Obiena.

"Nobody asked me any question, nobody asked for clarity or supporting documentation. They just leveled the charges against me. This runs counter to any principle of justice from what I believe, wherein we are innocent until proven guilty. My own federation comes at me with pure aggression, no benefit of any doubt, and with intent to destroy my reputation. If the objective of a sports federation is to destroy and demoralize an athlete, and undermine their performance, I think this is textbook example of how we can actually achieve this."

November 22: Juico reveals PATAFA probe initiated by Petrov complaint, senators raise questions about controversy

The athletics body reveals that it began its probe into Obiena's finances because of a signed complaint by Vitaly Petrov, as well as a signed affidavit from World Athletics vice president Sergey Bubka.


In this letter sent to PATAFA, Petrov complained that he has not received payment for his services.

In the press conference from the previous day, Petrov had appeared with Obiena to say that his services had been paid in full. However, PATAFA says that this salary only settled those obligations in November, and not during the months indicated in his liquidation report.

In response, Obiena questions PATAFA's statements, saying, "That's a long way from embezzlement and theft that they accused me of. I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I know, paying late isn't a crime. I have already admitted I am a pole vaulter—not an accountant."

He says in a new set of statements that he has repeatedly asked the federation to take care of the financial matters regarding his coaches' salary.

"The real question is, why doesn't PATAFA do their job and pay the coaches directly, allowing me to focus on training rather than accounting? They put all the burden on me to perform all administration which I truly believe is not my job."


Meanwhile, the ongoing controversy colors the ongoing budget hearings for the Philippine Sports Commission.

"How can you do that to your national athlete?" asks Senator Pia Cayetano of the government agency during the hearings, even as the Senate unanimously approved the recall of the agency's P1.6 billion budget.

November 24: PSC asks for social media truce

Amid the heated back-and-forth between the camps of both Patafa and EJ Obiena, the Philippine Sports Commission asks both parties to "refrain from issuing statements to the public and on social media."

The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) had earlier said that it would "intervene when appropriate"—a statement that came under fire during the Senate hearing. The agency now says that it is taking active steps to mediate the case.

The previous day, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) announced that it would launch its own investigation into the matter.

November 26: EJ Obiena advisor claims offers from multiple countries pouring in

Longtime advisor to Obiena, James Lafferty, reveals that many countries have reached out offers to poach the athlete—at the time ranked number 5 in the world—from the Philippines. 


"Long before this happened, there was already a line of people at his door to offer him a passport. 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 and everyone's afraid," said Lafferty to One News.

November 27: Juico explains Patafa stance

In Noli Eala's Power & Play radio show, Patafa president Popoy Juico indicated his displeasure at Lafferty's comments. 

"There are some people in his entourage who probably might be exacerbating the situation. The less people talk, the better," he says. "Ang nagsasabi niyan, si Lafferty, kinakalat niya 'yan. Eh di sabihin niya kung sino. Look, we want to finish the investigation and we take it from there."

He further asserted that the PATAFA investigation was strictly an internal one to "protect government assets", but that he was open to dialog and PSC mediation. He also dismissed Obiena's feelings that he was "not wanted" by the federation, saying that PATAFA had furnished him with funds "probably more than what Hidilyn Diaz got when she got the gold medal, Nesthy Petecio, Eumir Marcial, and Carlo Paalam, baka probably combined."


November 29: PSC sets December 15 deadline

After an emergency board meeting, the PSC sets a December 15 deadline for the two parties to sit down to mediation.

"Again, my role is to facilitate communication between the parties, not to decide who is right or wrong," says PSC chairman Butch Ramirez.

November 30: Obiena asserts loyalty to the Philippines

In a new Facebook post, Obiena announces that he will remain loyal to his country.

"I will never abandon my nation because of money. That's not loyalty. At least not how I define it," says the pole vaulter.

December 1: Petrov calls Patafa questioning a 'witch hunt'

Vitaly Petrov, whose salary became the flashpoint for the entire controversy, tells the Inquirer that he was paid in full by Obiena, has never had an issue with the Filipino athlete, and—contrary to the federation's claims—never forwarded a complaint to Patafa with regards his salary.


He also formally withdraws "any prior statements or documents associated [with] me."

Petrov also claims that he was made to sign a document, believing it would take the burden off Obiena's task of financial management. "I never could have imagined it would be used in this way it is used now as a weapon to destroy a promising career."

Petrov adds: "I have athletes who need me. I do not have more time to waste on this proverbial witch hunt."

December 14: Congress urges Obiena and PATAFA to reconcile

One day before the PSC deadline, the two parties have still not agreed to mediation.

Saying that "no one will be a victor in this brouhaha that we are having," Representative Manny Lopez of the house Committee on Youth and Sports Development urged the two parties to sit down with the PSC.

The PSC says that it will extend the deadline of its mediation offer to just before Christmas.


December 24: Obiena willing to take part in PSC mediation, but only after POC, IOC investigation

Right before Christmas, Obiena posts another statement on Facebook. 

The pole vaulter announces that since the IOC and POC are conducting their own probes on the matter, he will be open to mediation once those investigations are finished.

"What is there to mediate?" asks Obiena rhetorically. "Every accusation has been refuted. What is left is a clearing of my good name, my full reinstatement, and necessary changes to the system to avoid this situation to ever happen again and avoid this burden being placed on athletes."

December 27: PSC withdraws mediation offer

After Obiena's reveal that the IOC and the POC would be stepping in, the PSC decides to drop its mediation offer

"The agency leaves the mediation table, respecting the decision of Mr. Obiena who chose to submit to procedures conducted by other institutions," its statement goes. "We have to underscore that mediation should be the first course of action being the more peaceful, equitable, confidential, voluntary option to resolve issues."


December 28: POC declares Popoy Juico persona non grata

Upon the recommendation of its ethics committee, the POC rules PATAFA president Popoy Juico a "persona non grata", after an investigation concludes that Juico harassed and made malicious accusations versus Obiena.

In addition, the POC, a private body that is the local representative of the International Olympic Committee, says that it will no longer recognize Juico as PATAFA president.

Ten out of 12 executive board members accept the ethics committee's recommendation.

A few days later, POC president Representative Bambol Tolentino says that presidents of national sports associations should "protect and take care of the welfare of the athletes." Otherwise, "he or she does not deserve the recognition of the POC."

Juico vows to fight back against the POC decision. 

January 2: EJ Obiena vaults to third place in the world rankings

Amid the controversy, EJ Obiena continues to improve in his sport. In its year-end list, World Athletics ranked him third in the world, tied with Sam Kendricks of the US and Timur Morgunov of Russia.


In first place is reigning Olympic gold medalist Armand Duplantis, and in second is silver medalist Christopher Nilsen.

January 4: PATAFA investigations recommends Obiena's expulsion from national team

The investigative body formed by PATAFA recommends that the Olympic pole vaulter be expelled from the national team, apart from also recommending the filing of a criminal complaint against Obiena over EUR 6,000 (PHP 360,000) representing the salary of the athlete's coach which it claimed was not turned over.

More recommendations include filing a complaint against the legendary Ukranian coach before the World Athletics for what it claimed was a 'violation of the Integrity Code of Conduct" and that Obiena's longtime adviser James Michael Lafferty be declared a persona non grata by the federation.

The report also cited Obiena's mother Jeanette, who the federation accused of "misappropriating the amount of P624,116.76 she claimed from PSC under the pretext that it is a reimbursement of the coaching fee paid to Mr. Petrov for the months of January 2019 to March 2019."


Jeanette Obiena is part of the Patafa staff.

Meanwhile, the POC leapt to the athlete's defense. "We in the POC will make sure EJ will be in Hanoi and Huangzhou and in all other major world competitions, we’ll fight for EJ," Tolentino said in a statement released to the media on Tuesday.

Share this story with your friends!

Help us make better!
Take the short survey

Read more stories about

More Videos You Can Watch

Latest Stories

Load More Stories