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    EJ Obiena adviser claims 'multiple' countries offering citizenship

    Nov 26, 2021
    EJ Obiena James Lafferty
    PHOTO: Jerome Ascaño

    WILL EJ Obiena go on the same path as Wesley So did years back?

    James Lafferty fears so.

    Obiena's longtime adviser shared to One News that a number of countries are actually salivating on the prospects of offering the Olympic pole vaulter citizenship in the wake of the controversy between him and the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa).

    "It's not one. It's multiple," he responded when asked how many countries are intent to pry Obiena away from the Philippines. "It's no secret that a number of countries are looking at this situation and laughing uncontrollably how the Philippines is driving away a world-class athlete that they can offer a passport to."

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      Lafferty shared that even before this incident came to light, other nations were wary of the strides made by the 26-year-old pole vaulter, who has risen to No. 6 among male pole vaulters in the world athletics' rankings.

      Continue reading below ↓

      "Long before this happened, there was already a line of people at his door to offer him a passport. He is the hottest thing in track and field because he's gone from No. 30 to No. 10 to No. 8 to No. 5 and everyone's afraid," he said.

      Lafferty even recounted a conversation he claimed he had with a Brazilian coach that told him, "[Obiena] is going to win golds in big competitions."

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      "You don't think that other countries want that?" he asked.

      'Obiena doesn't want to leave'

      Obiena was well aware of these offers, yet ultimately chose to stick with representing the country, Lafferty said.

      "He has always asked me what do I think. I said, 'I will tell you right now, you want to vault for your home country.' And he said, 'I do.' He doesn't want to leave the Philippines, he doesn't want to do this. He wants to stay involved here," said the American businessman and conditioning coach.

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      "But how do you vault when your own federation is trying to kill you?"

      It's eerily similar to that of So, the chess grandmaster who changed allegiance and moved to the United States back in 2013, citing ugly politics as the reason behind the decision.

      So is now a super grandmaster and is currently ranked No. 8 in the world.

      [Read: How the Philippines managed to lose a potential world chess champion]

      Knowing Obiena, Lafferty believes that the pole vaulter will fight for his right to get his name cleared from this incident.

      "In my discussions with him, he will not give up on clearing his name, so if he is required, he has retained legal counsel and independent third-party forensic auditors. They're all working for him, they're all working full-time. He will not stop now," he said.

      What he fears, though, is for the irreparable consequences from this controversy that may push Obiena to the brink and lead him to retire, or worse, leave for another country.

      Continue reading below ↓

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        "EJ is a grown man. He makes all his decisions. I have no influence on any of this whatsoever, so it's really up to him. But I've continually told him to call Patafa, and I even called Patafa and said, 'Please reach out to him and let's stop this thing.' There's too much ego in this, and ego and pride is destroying the whole situation," he said.

        "Now, if something doesn't happen soon, in my opinion, he will never vault again for the Philippines."

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        PHOTO: Jerome Ascaño
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