KEY POINTS

  • EJ Obiena remains true to the Philippines despite offers to change nationalities
  • He threatened to retire should the local governing body continue with their allegations of him embezzling funds
  • Obiena set a new Asian record for pole vaulting last September

Filipino Olympian pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena has decided to remain with the country despite being accused of embezzlement of funds by a local governing body.

In a recent Facebook post, the No. 5-ranked pole vaulter in the world reassured his countrymen that he will remain loyal to the Philippines regardless of what had happened.

Obiena also confirmed that he had received “lucrative pay packages” from countries in order to convince him to leave the Philippines and represent them instead.

“Even now, in this current crisis, I have no desire to change nations. I see these statements on social media and active encouragement to switch allegiances. But this is not who I am and why I do this. I want to win for [the] Philippines and show the world what we can do. I want to win for us,” he wrote.

In early November, the 26-year-old from Tondo, Manila was accused by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) for embezzling around €85,000 ($96,201) worth of financial assistance meant for coaching fees, particularly his head coach Vitaly Petrov.

A frustrated and disrespected Obiena refuted all claims put forward by PATAFA, claiming that he had already paid Petrov his dues, even threatening retirement should the governing body continue to hound him for the accusations.

Obiena was one of the island nation’s hopes for a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after reaching the finals of the men’s pole vault event.

He failed to garner a podium finish after failing to clear the 5.80-meter mark, finishing 11th of the 14 qualified participants.

Prior to the Olympics, the decorated pole vaulter had achieved multiple gold medals in the event, most notably in the 2019 Summer Universiade and the 2019 Asian Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.

This past September, Obiena broke the Asian pole vault record set at 5.92 meters by Kazakhstan’s Igor Potapovich in 1998 en route to winning the gold medal at the 2021 Golden Roof Challenge in Austria.

Obiena is one of the few bright spots for the Philippines’ bid at international relevancy in the realm of sports, alongside fellow Olympians skateboarder Margielyn Didal and weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who brought home the country’s first-ever gold medal in the quadrennial event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“I am fighting to bring honor and glory for my country. Others fight for ego, or power. But that’s not me. I fight for higher principles. Loyalty is a virtue. And loyalty still matters,” Obiena wrote to close out his statement.