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Justice for athletes

Republika

CHINA CONSTRUCTS | Louise Nichole Logarta

“If you want a textbook example of how to destroy an athlete, you’re seeing it right here.”


Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena said these words amid an escalating row between himself and the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa), which earlier alleged that the athlete was not paying his Ukrainian coach Vitaliy Petrov his fees amounting to €85,000. The issue stemmed from a statement signed by World Athletics vice president Sergey Bubka, who himself was a renowned pole vaulter and current chief of the National Olympic Committee.


Both Obiena and Petrov released statements confirming that the coach indeed got paid that sum. Later, Patafa shifted their allegations against him from embezzling funds to delayed payments, a fact which Obiena criticized.


“I am personally shocked at the recent statement and shifting allegations of Patafa,” he wrote. “From their written letters accusing me of embezzlement to suddenly changing it to the timing of payments.”


Though he admitted that he had on occasion been late with his payments, he maintained that he still paid Petrov. He also said: “That’s a long way from embezzlement and theft that they have accused me of. I am not a lawyer, but as far as I know, paying late isn’t a crime.”


Obiena has since threatened to retire early and now may be fielding offers from a number of other countries that are offering him a passport. Veteran athletics coach Jim Lafferty, who also mentors Obiena, confirmed this. He noted: “It’s no secret in today’s world that a number of countries are looking at this situation and laughing uncontrollably at how the Philippines is driving away a world-class athlete that they can offer a passport to.”


Lafferty added: “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?”


Many more details fill out this story, but the crux of this incident is that this highlights how poorly the Philippines treats its own athletes. Obiena isn’t the only one who’s faced what can only be looked at as a slap in the face, but he is the latest.


One need not look too far in the past. Take gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz’s arduous journey to the top, with very little to no help from the government. Apart from rifts with sports association leadership, she had had to swallow her pride (“Kapalan ko na lang ang mukha ko…”) and seek sponsorship from the private sector. This happened when the funding from the Philippine Sports Commission was finally depleted after only 55 days.


Similar complaints from boxers Eumir Marcial and Irish Magno about insufficient funds will also be remembered, from as recent as earlier this year.


Tennis star Alex Eala’s camp denied it when the PSC claimed they gave some P3 million in support of the athlete’s tournament travels and training in Europe and the US. Eala’s mom said: “For the record, we have not received any of the funds in millions of pesos mentioned.” The PSC later took back their statement and apologized to the Ealas.


These are only some of the challenges that athletes go through that we know about; what more for rising stars in their sport?


The point is, our national athletes are trying their best under no easy circumstances to represent the country that should be looking out for you, not giving you a hard time or persecuting you.


Representing the nation is a true privilege but it’s no easy feat. With as much pleasure as the country takes in sharing in their triumphs, so too must they provide the tools for their success: good sports governance, sports facilities, coach development, international exposure and money.


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