By KRISTEL SATUMBAGA
Olympian EJ Obiena has threatened to retire if Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) would not make a public apology and full retraction of all allegations against him regarding the misuse of government funds intended for his Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov.
In an online press conference Sunday night, the world No. 5 pole vaulter said the incident has damaged his reputation and affected his training for future high-level tournaments.
“The only thing I own in this life is my reputation,” Obiena said.
“If this does not happen, I will consider other options being an immediate retirement from the sport that I love in the Philippines and probably returning to school.”
Obiena admitted to receiving letters from the PATAFA accusing him of misuse of funds intended for Petrov, who has been his coach in Formia, Italy for the last seven years.
The letter demanded Obiena to return 85,000 euros (around P4.8 million) equivalent to Petrov’s coaching fees that were allegedly misused.
Due to this incident, his training funds have been reportedly cut.
“Nobody asked me any questions. Nobody asked for supporting documentation. They just level the charges against me,” Obiena said.
“My own federation comes out at me with pure aggression, no benefit of any doubt, and with intention to destroy my reputation.”
Petrov, who appeared with Obiena in the online press briefing, denied the accusations and said he was fully paid for his services.
“I have been paid the full sum by EJ, both directly and indirectly. I have no problem with EJ,” Petrov said.
Obiena, meanwhile, has already engaged an independent third party to audit the entire payments in question. He said he has previously requested the association help in liquidating his funds, but they were turned down.
“I’m a pole vaulter, not an accountant. I have not always handled the paperwork well and I’m sorry for this, but to take this fact and suddenly construe false accusations of theft and embezzlement is beyond me,” he said.
Obiena is also filing formal complaints to the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Athletics.
“As we are now talking of slander and defamation of character, I have maintained legal counsel and I do intend to pursue this vigorously,” he said.