POC vows to still include EJ Obiena in national team after PATAFA's 'vengeful act'

POC president Bambol Tolentino is assuring EJ Obiena that he will still be part of the national team.
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--The Philippine Olympic Committee said on Tuesday that it can still include embattled pole vaulter EJ Obiena to the national team even without an endorsement from the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association.

POC president Bambol Tolentino said that his agency will vow to still have Obiena in the Philippine team for both the Southeast Asian Games and the Asian Games despite PATAFA removing him from its training pool amid their rift that has affected their lives this Christmas season.

"We in the POC will make sure EJ will be in Hanoi and Huangzhou and all other major world competitions, we’ll fight for EJ," Tolentino said in a statement.

He then stressed a clause in the International Olympic Committee charter saying that a national Olympic committee can endorse an athlete on its own.

"There’s a provision in the IOC Charter allowing NOCs to endorse athlete/s. In the absence of an endorsement from a national federation, the organizer/host owns a prerogative to allow embattled athlete/s," Tolentino bared, citing the refugee athletes competing in the Olympics as an example.

He then hit out at PATAFA's decision earlier in the day, calling it a "vengeful act."

"I expected EJ will be dropped from the national team by his NSA as a vengeful act. The action of Mr. [Popoy] Juico in removing EJ Obiena from the national pool is an expected result of his expose, a vengeful act that shuts down the chances of the Philippines from its Olympic dream," Tolentino further said.

Obiena's removal from the national team was a recommendation made following an investigation to allegations of unpaid coaching fees to Vitaly Petrov.

PATAFA is also readying estafa charges against Obiena, while a complaint will be made to World Athletics against Petrov.

Tolentino then said that the POC is ready "to act as the final caretaker of athletes when an oppressive NSA is shutting its doors to world-class athletes."

Meanwhile, the Philippine Sports Commission is now seeking an explanation from PATAFA as to why it removed Obiena from its pool.

While the PSC board clarified that an NSA has the main discretion on who it will insert into its national team, the said NSA must also explain the tweaks to its roster, especially those it released.

"The inclusion and exclusion of athletes is a domain of national sports associations under Section 13 of RA 6847. However, any exclusion shall also be required an explanation from the concerned NSA considering the investment of government in developing someone into an elite athlete," the PSC board said in another statement.

Tolentino then called on the PSC to make the final decision on whether Obiena remains with the national team sans the PATAFA endorsement or not.

"The ball is now with the PSC, will the PSC allow EJ to be stricken off from the national team (SEA Games and Asian Games year)? Will the government allow a world-class athlete to be out of the national team?" Tolentino further said. "Being the Asian record holder, No. 6 in the world, and No. 3 best performer in 2021, will the PSC allow one gold medal to be lost in Huangzhou long before the Asian Games?"

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno