Can Patafa remove Obiena as a national athlete? Legal questions about EJ, answered

Jan 4, 2022
PHOTO: Jerome Ascano

WITH Patafa threatening to bring down the hammer on celebrated Olympic pole vaulter EJ Obiena in its latest press statement, it’s just right that we have a brief Q&A on the legal issues on the latest developments.

For a refresher on what went down today, read Spin.ph’s news report here. To catch up on the entire timeline of the controversy, tap here. For more on sports law issues, visit Batas Sportiva.

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    What is Patafa anyway?

    The Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association, Inc. or Patafa is the national governing body for athletics in the Philippines. It’s the national sports association or national federation for athletics. It is the duly accredited national sports association (NSA) of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and a member of the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF).

    What is the IAAF?

    The IAAF is the international federation that governs world athletics. The IAAF is the sole competent international authority for the sport of athletics worldwide and is recognized as such by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

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    In short, the IAAF is the big boss for world athletics. (After a name change in 2019, IAAF is now known as World Athletics, though the acronym is still widely in use.)

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    How do you become a member of Patafa?

    Under Section 1 of its By-laws, membership is open to any individual, sports association, sports club, private or public school and LGU, as long as these are approved by the majority of the Board of Trustees of Patafa.

    Individual members of Patafa, such as EJ, must be Filipino citizens, of legal age, of good moral character, and possess all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications as may be promulgated by Patafa’s Board.

    Can Patafa remove EJ Obiena from the national training pool?

    In theory, it can. Under Section 12 of its By-laws, Patafa may suspend, expel, and terminate its members, in accordance with the rules and regulations of Patafa. (What these rules and regulations are, I can’t tell for sure as I don’t have access to them.) But the By-laws require a 1/3 vote of all the members of Patafa to suspend a member and 2/3 vote to remove a member altogether.

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    EJ Obiena is a member of Patafa. I assume that Patafa means to remove EJ as a member when its Administrative Committee recommended that “EJ Obiena be dropped from the National Training Pool of Athletes of Patafa effective immediately.”

    In its press statement, Patafa found that EJ violated the IAAF Integrity Code of Conduct, specifically the tenet of honesty as he is alleged to have forged documents and contracts pertaining to monetary payments to his coach.

    What happens if EJ Obiena is removed from the national training pool?

    If Patafa strips him of his membership, EJ will be unable to participate in international competitions sanctioned by the IAAF.

    Under the IAAF’s Requirements to Compete in International Competitions, no athlete may take part in an international competition unless they are a member or affiliated to an IAAF Member. Further, competitions are restricted to athletes who are under the jurisdiction of an IAAF Member.

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    Finally, athletes who have been provisionally suspended or declared ineligible under the rules of his or her member federations are also ineligible to join international competitions, as long as these rules are consistent with the IAAF’s.

    Patafa is a World Athletics Member. Hence, EJ Obiena must either be a member or affiliated to Patafa in order to join IAAF-sanctioned international competitions.

    What are examples of IAAF-sanctioned international competitions?

    The Olympics, for one. The Golden Roof Challenge, where EJ Obiena set the Asian Record of 5.93m, is also sanctioned by the federation.

    So, if Patafa does remove EJ from its list of members, EJ Obiena will not be representing the Philippines in Paris 2024.

    Assuming Patafa does remove EJ, can he participate as a neutral athlete in Paris 2024, similar to how Russian athletes participated in the last Olympics?

    It’s unlikely, as the rules of IAAF on neutral athletes only pertain to athletes whose national federations have been suspended by the IAAF. As Patafa has not been suspended by the IAAF, it seems the rules on neutral athletes do not apply to EJ Obiena.

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    What’s the next step for EJ Obiena?

    Patafa’s By-laws do not explicitly state its dispute resolution mechanism for eligibility issues.

    However, as the Patafa is an IAAF Member, Patafa must likewise abide by the rules of the IAAF. And under the IAAF Rules on Disputes and Disciplinary Proceedings, disputes between athletes and their national federations must be submitted to an impartial and fair hearing body, with the rights of the athlete respected at all times.

    Patafa has, however, stated in its press statement that the necessary investigations were conducted by its Administrative Committee who then submitted its Fact-Finding Report to the Board. The POC and the Philippine Sports Commission have also been both involved trying to resolve the matter.

    Whether these three bodies were considered the “impartial and fair hearing body” is unclear.

    I imagine EJ’s legal team will be looking for an avenue to raise the issue to the IAAF.

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    What’s the next step for Patafa?

    Aside from the recommendations outlined in their press statement, Patafa may likewise file a case with the IAAF Disciplinary Tribunal against EJ Obiena. The IAAF Disciplinary Tribunal has jurisdiction over any alleged Non-Doping Violations such as violations of the IAAF Integrity Code of Conduct — which Patafa referred to in its forgery accusations against EJ.

    Decisions of the IAAF Disciplinary Tribunal may be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

    Can EJ Obiena be jailed for all of this?

    In Patafa's press statement, it was recommended that a criminal complaint of estafa be filed against EJ Obiena. Estafa is a crime under the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines. For cases of estafa amounting to P360,000 (which is the amount mentioned in the press statement), the corresponding penalty is jail time of 4 months and 1 day to 2 years and 4 months.

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    Of course, this will have to go through the process of filing a complaint and acquiring jurisdiction over EJ through an arrest, which may be difficult given that he is currently training abroad.

    Mickey Ingles is a leading sports lawyer working in the law firm of Ingles Laurel Calderon. He wrote the country's first and only book on sports law, Laws for Sports and the Sporty. He also teaches Emerging Issues in Sports Law in the Ateneo Law School, and is the author of Alinam, a fantasy novel published by Summit Media.

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    PHOTO: Jerome Ascano
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