Golf: Can Yuka Saso still represent PH in the Olympics?

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 02 2022 05:05 PM

 Yuka Saso of the Philippines plays her shot from the sixth tee during the final round of the 75th U.S. Women's Open Championship at Champions Golf Club Cypress Creek Course on December 13, 2020 in Houston, Texas. File photo. Jamie Squire, Getty Images/AFP.
Yuka Saso of the Philippines plays her shot from the sixth tee during the final round of the 75th U.S. Women's Open Championship at Champions Golf Club Cypress Creek Course on December 13, 2020 in Houston, Texas. File photo. Jamie Squire, Getty Images/AFP.

MANILA, Philippines -- Yuka Saso is now officially recognized as a Japanese golfer by the LPGA, but is it still possible for her to play for the Philippines in the Olympics?

Saso chose her Japanese citizenship in November 2021, a change that took effect this year. She was already playing under the Japanese flag when she competed in the first two LPGA events of 2022, the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions and the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio.

According to Bones Floro, the secretary-general of the National Golf Association of the Philippines (NGAP), they are still seeking clarification from the world governing body of golf regarding Saso's status for the Olympics.

"We still have not received a reply from the international federation, which is the International Golf Federation (IGF)," he said during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum this week. 

"Kasi every sport is governed by an IF, and every IF has different rules," he added. "I sent an official communication to the IGF inquiring about that."

"But the thing is, in my mind, parang once na nawala na 'yung passport ni Yuka, nawala na 'yung Philippine passport niya, then she can no longer compete for the Philippines.

"Kasi the Japanese immigration laws are different, they're very unique and they don't allow dual citizenship on your 22nd birthday moving forward. But I think they do allow you to keep your passport, your Philippine passport until it's valid."

Floro believes that as long as Saso's Philippine passport is valid, she can still compete for the Philippines. However, this will still have to be confirmed by their international federation.

"We're still waiting on that," he said, while also stressing that as a professional golfer, Saso can only represent her country -- be it Japan or the Philippines -- in the Olympic Games.

She is no longer qualified to compete in events such as the Southeast Asian Games and Asian Games, where she won individual and team gold in Indonesia in 2018.

Rep. Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino, the president of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), also ruled out any possibility of Saso representing the Philippines in the SEA Games.

"They're not allowed na by rules ng golf. Once you played as a professional, you're only allowed to play in the Olympics, no other games," he said last week.

In the same vein, Asian Games bronze medalist and SEA Games gold medalist Bianca Pagdanganan is also no longer qualified to compete in those events for the Philippines.

"Two-thirds of our Asian Games gold medal-winning team are no longer qualified to represent and to participate at the SEA Games and the Asian Games," said Floro. 

The third member, Lois Kaye Go, remains an amateur as she plays collegiate golf for South Carolina in the US NCAA.

Floro assured that they are prepared for this situation, and the NGAP still has a roster of elite athletes whom they can call up for the 31st SEA Games in Hanoi in May and the Asiad in Hangzhou, China in September.

These amateur golfers are preparing "non-stop," particularly those who are based in the United States.

"We're blessed that a lot of our elite athletes are also based in America, kasi nag-aaral sila, they're all in universities, they have their scholarships and they play for their schools," Floro said. "So their competitions are non-stop as well, week in and week out 'yan."

"All our preparations for the SEA Games and Asian Games, and we even have our World Amateur in Paris in August, so we're all there, non-stop, and we're coming along."

RELATED VIDEO:

Watch more News on iWantTFC