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Olympics beckon as Jaja eyes Japanese citizenship

Jaja Santiago’s days with the Philippine national team are over.

National team head coach Edson Jorge Souza de Brito revealed that the 27-year-old wing spiker is set to acquire Japanese citizenship that will make her eligible to see action in the Paris Olympics in 2024.

With that, Santiago is no longer expected to compete for the Philippines in major international tourneys ahead, including the 32nd Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia in May and the 19th Asian Games in China in September.

The Brazilian tactician stressed that seeing the 6-foot-5 Santiago don the Japanese colors in the Olympics will be a proud moment, but it will be a major loss to Philippine volleyball.

“I don’t think so because she has already started the process for (Japanese citizenship),” Souza de Brito said when asked if Santiago will still be able to reinforce the national squad.

“Bad for us, good for them. Good for her as well. I’m always hoping that she can be happy. As you know, she’s a good player.”

Santiago has been playing with the Ageo Medics in the Japanese V. League since 2018.

Two years ago, she revealed that her club offered her to become a naturalized player, a development that will pave the way for her to see action in the Olympics.

Making Santiago’s bid to play for Japan easier is the fact that she is now engaged to Taka Minowa – the assistant coach of the Japanese national women’s volleyball team.

In a separate interview, Dindin Manabat confirmed her sister’s willingness to pursue Japanese citizenship.

“Actually, she really wants to stay in Japan. She is now processing her papers for naturalization. The process is now ongoing and we haven’t really talked about if she can still play (for the Philippines) or not,” Manabat said.

“But Jaja is now focused on her career in Japan.”

Santiago’s last tour of duty for the Philippine team was in the 2021 Hanoi edition of the SEA Games where the Filipinas finished fourth.

But the prospect of playing for the perennial Olympic contender is just too tempting of an opportunity to let pass.

“It’s her dream and no one can stop her from pursuing that dream,” Manabat, who is also a former national team member but is not included in the current pool despite playing under Souza de Brito at Akari in the Premier Volleyball League, said.

“Actually, I don’t know if I have the right to talk about this for Jaja. But Japan is really interested in getting her for their national team. Because if not, she won’t be that eager to push through with her naturalization.”

There, however, is no definite timetable yet for when Santiago will officially become a Japanese citizen.

“I’m not sure if it will be completed before the (2024 Paris) Olympics. There are still a lot of processes she’s working on. That’s how Jaja is. She is not the one to update us about the specific part of the process. Most of the time she’ll just inform us when it’s already done.” Manabat added.

“Also, she’s doing it for a chance to play in Europe if ever her (Olympics) dream won’t push through. It’s possible that she’ll eye a stint in Europe.”

Under the International Volleyball Federation regulations, “a player who has previously played for another national team will only be eligible to play for a national squad of the new federation only after two years have lapsed.

This two-year period starts from the day that the complete application file (including the payment of the administrative fee), containing all required documents, is received by the FIVB”.

In the case of Santiago, she can only suit up for Japan, if ever she gets selected for its national team, if she completes this requirement.

“For the last competition (SEA Games) she cannot join because there are some rules there that she has to follow,” Souza de Brito said.

With this latest development, the country will lose another sports gem following other high-profile athletes who chose to compete under different banners.

Chess master Wesley So joined the Americans in 2014 and got his US citizenship two years ago while Filipino-Japanese golfer Yuka Saso, who won the US Open in 2021, has elected to officially become a Japanese citizen last year.

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