Pinoy sports fans are reeling from loss after Filipino-Japanese golf gem Yuka Saso announced she’s officially choosing Japanese citizenship. Once she turns 22 years old, she’s set to represent the Land of the Rising Sun full-time. Though heartbreaking, her decision was surprisingly supported by a lot of Filipinos. So what happened exactly?
Yuka Saso, already a legend
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20-year-old Yuka Saso was born in Bulacan to a Japanese father and a Filipino mother. She started playing golf when she was only 8 years old under her father’s guidance. Since then, Saso has represented the Philippines in golfing tournaments. She quickly became a sensation and has brought great pride to the country, especially when she won the championship for the 2021 US Women’s Open at just 19 years old.
Yuka Saso chooses Japanese citizenship
“I chose Japan because of its nationality law,” she explained. Under Japanese law, dual citizens have to choose their nationality before turning 22 years old. Once a person chooses to be a Japanese national, they will be required to “renounce the foreign nationality” through a declaration of choice.
Not the first time a Pinoy athlete changed citizenship
Earlier this year, Pinoys were hit with the news that chess Grandmaster Wesley So is officially a US citizen. The Bacoor, Cavite native who now lives in Excelsior, Minnesota said he decided to change nationalities so he can have a better future for himself as an athlete. It gave him the chance to get opportunities he never would have gotten in the Philippines. In the US, So says, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have connections, what matters is you work hard.
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Another local athlete that was given a chance to change nationalities is volleyball star Jaja Santiago. She had been playing for the Japanese team Saitama Ageo Medics since 2018 and they offered her citizenship so she can stay with them. Santiago refused, saying she wants to help the Philippine team win at the Olympics. However, she didn’t close doors to the possibility of becoming a Japanese national.
What do Pinoys think of Yuka Saso and her Japanese citizenship?
Let’s be clear: Saso choosing Japanese citizenship is not because she has beef with our country (that we know of). She’s subject to a Japanese law that forces dual citizens to choose between two countries, so this was inevitable. So’s case, on the other hand, was the result of the lack of support for chess players like him. Sure, Saso could’ve chosen to be a Philippine national, but she didn’t, and Pinoys are surprisingly taking it in stride.
There was also a similar show of support when Santiago announced that she was offered Japanese citizenship. Pinoys filled the comments section with sentiments saying she deserves to have an opportunity where she will be trained better. And now the same comments are pouring in for Saso.
Pinoys: “We can’t blame her.”
“Super bummed to lose such a great athlete like Yuka, but honestly, who could blame her?” another tweet said. Even though it hurts Filipino sports fans to see a golfing legend walk away when she could still do so much for the country, Pinoys respect her decision.
“YUKA Saso, a top lady golfer, has chosen to become a Japanese citizen over Filipino. No hard feelings.” wrote another Twitter user.
Others aren’t surprised that elite athletes would decide to change their citizenships given our country’s history of handling promising athletes.
Why do Pinoys think these things happen?
It’s no secret that being an athlete in the Philippines is a tough career path. Even top athletes like Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz and Olympic skater Margielyn Didal had to struggle to look for sponsors and places to train just so they could represent the country in world stages.
While this isn’t the case for Saso, it’s a real situation for other Pinoy athletes. The Philippines has never lacked world-class talent but we do suffer from other things: lack of financial aid, government’s different priorities, and Philippine sports politics are just some of the barriers that hinder our athletes from reaching their full potential. So when opportunity knocks on their doors, who can blame them for abandoning ship?
Japanese and Filipino, no matter what
Saso, on Thursday. issued an official statement that echoed her initial sentiments. “I am immensely proud of my dual heritage and that will never change,” she writes. She confirms that she has started “the process of acquiring Japanese citizenship” before she turns of age in June 2023. “Thank you for respecting my choice,” Saso ends. “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!”
— Gretchen Ho (@gretchenho) November 4, 2021
Yuka Saso and her accomplishments
What exactly are we losing here? Saso is an exceptional player and at quite a young age at that. Aside from bagging the championship in the 2021 US Women’s Open, which by the way made her the first Filipino to win a major gold championship for golf, she has also earned other medals. During the 2018 Asian Games, Saso won double gold for the women’s individual golf tournament and the women’s team event with fellow Filipino golfers Bianca Pagdanganan and Lois Kaye Go.
Saso also represented the Philippines at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where she finished 9th. The stint bumped her world ranking to No. 8. A few months later, in September 2021, she reached her highest world ranking yet and is currently placed at No. 6.