Grounded to a halt

Obiena and Juico

THE mediation process to resolve the burning issue between world-class pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena and his federation rolled out after lunch time on Monday and grounded to a halt an hour past sunset.

Grounded to a halt because neither party—Obiena or the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa)—budged, leaving the Tokyo Olympics pole vaulter who’s the best in Asia at the moment, in limbo if he’ll be able to compete in major international competitions in 2022.

At least for now?

An apology from Obiena could be enough to diminish the flames into embers, according Renato Unso, Patafa’s board member for the National Capital Region and national team training director.

“If EJ makes a public apology to President Popoy [Juico] during the mediation, then everything could be OK,” said Unso, a two-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist during the hey days of the Project: Gintong Alay.

Due to strict confidentiality rules governing the mediation process initiated by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), the BusinessMirror couldn’t divulge the identities of sources who described the five-hour mediation as having a cordial start only to wind up sour because Obiena’s camp refused Patafa’s demand for a public apology not only to Patafa and Juico, but to the “Filipino people.”

“EJ did appear to be leaning toward making an apology, but someone from his camp declined Patafa’s demand that the apology be made also to the ‘Filipino people,’” a source told BusinessMirror on Tuesday, adding Obiena has public opinion on his side and Patafa doesn’t.

“That pricked the process and an adjournment was called,” the source said.

The PSC gave both sides a month to “freshen their minds and meet halfway” during the one month window until they meet again on April 8.

But the wait could cost Obiena’s bid to defend his gold medal in Hanoi in May. He already lost his chance to become the first full-bred Filipino to compete in the World Indoor Championships after the Patafa refused to endorse him to the Belgrade edition that starts on March 18.

Besides the world indoors and the SEA Games, Obiena requested the Patafa for endorsement to the world championships in Eugene, Oregon, in July and Asian Games in Hangzhou in September.

The Patafa board, Unso repeatedly said, will endorse Obiena only after the mediation.

“Our boss [Juico] informed us that the mediation is not over yet so there’s still a chance for EJ [Obiena] to be on the SEA Games list,” Unso said. “But the world indoors are out, yet maybe, by miracle, EJ could still be endorsed for Belgrade as a late entry.”

Monday’s mediation filled up the monitors of each participant. Patafa’s board was in full force, Obiena had four advisers or counsels to negotiate for him and the PSC had at least three representatives—of course, Chairman William Ramirez was there as timon but won’t divulge on the details of the negotiations.

But then, BusinessMirror’s source observed that to resolve the crisis, all the protagonists need to do is to remove their fingers from the triggers.

“They both have one month to resolve the issue,” the source said. “But there’s no need even to consume that entire month if they want to settle their differences once and for all.

“It boils down to attitude, perhaps to character,” the source said. “EJ is a young man full of potential, but he shouldn’t let his success get to his head. The Patafa? It’s an organization, a federation governed by a charter.”

Or does the sponsorship factor smell? With Josef Ramos


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