EMBATTLED Olympian pole-vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena isn’t following the lead of woodpusher Wesley So and golfer Yuka Saso and plans to remain a Filipino.
The World No. 5 said he will not be changing citizenship in the wake of his dispute with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA), which has alleged that he falsified his liquidation reports detailing his payments to his Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov.
“Loyalty is a virtue,” said the 26-year-old Asian record-holder and Southeast Asian (SEA) Games gold medalist in a social media post yesterday. “I have always believed that loyalty is a core value, something to aspire, to applaud.”
Mr. Obiena was reacting to statements made by his spokeperson Jim Michael Lafferty that the former received offers from other countries to compete under their flag several days ago.
“I said no. I love my country. I am proud to compete for the flag of the Philippines. I get chills every time I hear our anthem played and to watch that flag rise high,” said Mr. Obiena. “Every time I step on the podium, I force myself not to cry.”
“From my athlete’s ego, I take pride and joy to win and win even when I’m not supposed to be the victor.
“I will never abandon my nation because of money. That’s not my loyalty, at least not how I define it,” he added.
Mr. Obiena’s decision quashed fears of a nation that already lost world beaters in Mr. So, who now represents the US, and the 20-year-old Ms. Saso, who will opt for Japanese citizenship when she turns 22.
Mr. Obiena vowed to stay strong despite the problems he is facing.
“Even now, in this current crisis, I have no desire to change nations. This is not who I am and why I do this. I want to win for Philippines and show the world what we can do. I want to win for us,” he said. — Joey Villar